It’s a Stressful World in There: Inside Our Turbulent Circulatory System
We’ve all come across a river that seems to be dying, its water reduced to a trickle and its bends full of silt that would have been swept downstream when the water was higher. The same can happen in the vessels that carry blood through our bodies: too slow a flow and sediment builds up. In fact, our blood vessels require a balance every bit as delicate as that of a river. While too slow a flow is no good, neither is too fast—in a river, it floods the banks; in our body, it puts too much pressure on the blood vessel walls.
As Canada Research Chair in Cardiovascular Physiology, Dr. Stephanie Lehoux studies this delicate balance, focusing on the endothelial cells that line the walls of our arteries. These cells thrive when there is high sheer stress, but not when the flow is low, or irregular. The latter causes something called “endothelial activation,” which favours all sorts of build-ups in the blood vessels.
But high blood pressure causes problems, too. Called "arterial hypertension," this pressure can cause vessels to become rigid, and can damage organs. Both high and low blood pressure contribute to the cardiovascular diseases that are the leading cause of death in developed countries.
By working to understand the molecular basis of cardiovascular disease, Lehoux will develop an underlying knowledge of these serious conditions. This knowledge will allow us to use current drugs much more effectively, and identify new molecules that can be targeted by the next generation of life-extending cardiovascular drugs.