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Blood vessels in a dish to tackle diabetes complications

Project summary

High blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels, and over time this can lead to diabetes complications. Professor David Long will enhance a pioneering new way of growing blood vessels in the lab to study how they behave in diabetes. Understanding what happens to blood vessels in high sugar levels could help researchers to develop new treatments that prevent or slow all sorts of complications. 

Background to research

Our blood vessels have the very important job of moving blood all around the body, delivering oxygen and energy to keep all our body parts working properly, and getting rid of waste substances. But in people with diabetes, high blood sugar levels can damage blood vessels. This can lead to complications like sight loss, heart disease, and kidney damage.  

To understand how to better protect blood vessels, we need a way of testing new treatments in the same conditions as in the human body in the lab before they’re tested in clinical trials. Professor David Long and his team have developed a cutting-edge new way to grow human blood vessels in 3D in a dish, which behave very similarly to real blood vessels in the body. Now they want to see upgrade their method so they can study what happens to blood vessels in diabetes. 

Research aims

Professor Long aims to build on his breakthrough method of growing blood vessels in the lab to help speed up the discovery of new treatments for diabetes complications. 

Once his team will expose the blood vessels they’ve grown to high sugar levels and to other chemicals found in the blood of people with diabetes. They’ll use advanced microscopes and imaging techniques to take a 3D picture of blood vessels and figure out how the vessels’ structure changes in diabetes. 

They’ll also use a technique called single-cell sequencing, which works like scanning a genetic barcode, to see if there are any changes in genes in the cells making up the vessels. This will help them to find out molecular changes that happen in diabetes in each individual blood vessel cells. This unique information could help scientists to develop treatments targeted to particular cells.  

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

Every week diabetes causes more than 184 amputations, 770 strokes, 590 heart attacks and 2,300 cases of heart failure in the UK. A better understanding of exactly what happens to blood vessels when sugar levels are high could help scientists to develop new and improved treatments able to repair them or protect them from future damage. This could be groundbreaking in tackling a range of diabetes complications, helping more people with diabetes to live healthier, longer lives. 

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