All vessels are different – new knowledge on their building blocks can lead to better treatments

22 October 2020

Lena Claesson-Welsh

“The biggest challenge with the project is that the available analysis methods limit us. This is an area we may need to actively take part developing,” says Lena Claesson-Welsh.

Blood and lymph vessels in the body’s organs look different depending on their function. In a new project, Lena Claesson-Welsh at Uppsala University will work with colleagues to map and compare the structure of vessels in three different organs. This vessel atlas can then be used to develop new strategies for disease treatments.

Blood and lymph vessels communicate with every organ in the body, and all organs are impacted by how the condition of the vessels. Blood vessels provide oxygenated, energy-rich blood to tissue and the lymph vessels collect what leaks out from the blood vessels. Beyond these basic functions, the vessels have several specific functions in each organ. These functions vary depending on what organ the vessels serve.

It is well known that vessels can vary greatly throughout the body, but there is a lack of detailed knowledge on how different types of vessels are structured, why they look the way the do, and how they contribute to the different functions of organs. The researchers behind this new project want to help close this knowledge gap.

This new vessel atlas will be based on the central nervous system, the skin and the aorta. These are three organs with very different functions. The researchers will map the expressions of genes and proteins in the organs’ vessels, both in the internal layer of endothelial cells and in the surrounding layer of support cells.

“The biggest challenge with the project is that the available analysis methods limit us. They are difficult, expense and imperfect. This is an area we may need to actively take part developing,” says Lena Claesson-Welsh.

The new vessel atlas will be based on the central nervous system, the skin and the aorta. The researchers will map the expressions of genes and proteins in these organs’ vessels.

Build a structural map

Based on their analyses, the researchers will build a structural map. This can show what is common for multiple vessels and what is unique for the vessels of individual organs. A next step is to test how the unique parts of the structural map for each cell type contribute to the vessel’s specific functions. These types of analyses will also allow the creation of a functional map.

The maps can then be used to understand severe illnesses that affect the vessels of the central nervous system, skin and aorta. Eventually, this can make it possible to target analyses and improve treatments specifically toward what is unique for each vessel type.

MAJOR GRANT TO THE RESEARCH PROJECT

Lena Claesson-Welsh, professor at the Department of Immunology, Genetics and Pathology, is the main applicant for a five-year project that has received SEK 38 million: “Vascular organotypicity in health and disease”.