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Detecting early signs of atherosclerosis by looking at changes in cell function

last modified Nov 02, 2018 01:08 PM

Dr Helle Jørgensen, Dr Mikhail Spivakov, and their collaborators in Cambridge and London, have shown that it is possible to detect early signs of atherosclerosis by looking at how muscle cells within blood vessel walls change their function between two modes (pumping blood and repairing injuries). Having too many muscle cells in the 'repair' mode can lead to atherosclerosis and the formation of plaques that will drop the amount of blood that can flow past them. Sometimes plaques will block blood flow entirely - depending on where the blockage is, this will lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Although no treatments are currently available to reverse atherosclerosis, lifestyle changes such as improved diet and increased exercise can reduce the risk of the condition worsening - and the early detection can minimise this risk.

Dr Jørgensen and collaborators used single-cell RNA sequencing to track gene activity in hundreds of blood vessel muscle cells. They caught a tiny number of cells in in the act of switching and described their molecular properties. Their findings have been published in Nature Communications, and could pave the way for detecting the same cells in humans. If successful, in future this will potentially enable early diagnosis and treatment of atherosclerosis and prevention of clinical events.

This article is a short version of the story published here by the University's Research Communications team.

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