Exploring the Science Behind Vascular Diseases
In the 18th century, scientists recognized that inflammatory diseases make blood clot. However, only in the past decades have researchers started to explore the molecular links between the clotting system and the inflammatory system. Most of these links can be traced to “endothelial” cells (the cells that line blood vessels), where the two systems interact the most intimately. Dr. Edward Conway, Canada Research Chair in Endothelial Cell Biology, believes that by understanding how endothelial cells work, researchers will be able to develop new and more effective preventative and therapeutic strategies for common blood-vessel diseases such as venous thrombosis and atherosclerosis. As a clinical scientist, Conway has led research groups in Canada and Europe. His research has already determined that mutations in the proteins of endothelial cells in humans may contribute to vascular (blood vessel) disease, and has started applying his discoveries to test different therapies. Although scientists had already learned that one of these endothelial cell proteins, called “thrombomodulin,” is essential for preventing excess blood clotting, Conway was the first to discover its importance for our immune response to infections and for inflammation. He is currently working to further understand the exact role that it and others play. Conway’s goal is to investigate how thrombomodulin and its protein partners work; determine how mutations in thrombomodulin may contribute to vascular, immune, inflammatory, infectious and malignant diseases in humans; and to develop new treatment strategies based on this new-found knowledge. Conway’s research could have a wide impact, leading to new genetic insights to explain both common and rare diseases, and to develop innovative treatment approaches.