BHF Professor Qingbo Xu and his team study the development of heart and circulatory diseases in order to understand how they can be treated. They particularly focus on the build up of fatty materials in the walls of the arteries, called atherosclerosis.
Stem cells and blood vessel diseases
Recent evidence indicates that stem cells (cells that can transform into many different types of specialised cells) play a crucial role in the development of heart disease and atherosclerosis. Professor Xu is looking at the potential use of these cells in developing treatments. The team have found that artery walls contain abundant stem cells which we could perhaps harness for disease prevention or therapy.
Professor Xu's work with stem cells is a vital part of our Mending Broken Hearts campaign. We're looking to spend £50 million to help people with heart failure following a heart attack, people like Bronnach who is living with severe heart failure after a massive heart attack after the birth of her third child.
Proteins and genes
In order to harness this potential for future therapies, we need to understand the signals that spark the transformation of stem cells into cells that carry out specific jobs in our blood vessels.
These signals come in the form of proteins and Professor Xu’s group is working to reveal these important molecular signals by profiling all the proteins present in stem cells and specialised blood vessel cells.
Understanding bypass failure
Professor Xu's team has created a vital model to replicate atherosclerosis in heart bypass vein grafts. This is proven to be powerful for studying the development and treatment of bypass failure, which occurs in about half of vein grafts within a decade of the procedure.
Many people from Europe and the USA have visited Professor Xu’s laboratory to learn the techniques for establishing the model, which is now used widely. The team also study other procedures, including heart transplantation.
Read more about how our research into heart surgery as made operations safer.
Discover more about ongoing research in this area in our booklet, Lifesaving science.