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Why do blood vessels become leaky?

Project summary

In people with diabetes blood vessels can become leaky. This can lead to complications like eye disease and stroke.

Dr Robert Wilkinson will study zebrafish to understand why this leaking happens. He hopes this will help to find new ways to reduce serious complications in people with diabetes in the future. 

Background to research

Blood vessels transport fluids and cells around our body. But in people with diabetes, blood vessels can become leaky. This can lead to diabetes-related complications, like retinopathy and stroke. 

A protein called VEGF is involved in blood vessel leakiness. People with diabetes have higher levels of this protein. VEGF reduces the ability of blood vessel cells to stick to each other and makes it easier for substances to pass through blood vessel walls, which makes them leaky. 

There are treatments available to block VEGF signals, but these aren’t always effective and can have dangerous side effects. We need to understand more about how to reduce blood vessel leakiness, to find new, more effective ways of treating this complication. 

Research aims

Dr Wilkinson has identified a specific signal in our body that blocks VEGF activity and reduces blood vessel leakiness. He now wants to understand exactly how this signal works. 

He’ll study zebrafish, which have reduced levels of these signals. A small amount of dye will be injected into their blood vessels and Dr Wilkinson’s team will use a special microscope to measure leaking and find out how it’s controlled. Zebrafish are useful for research because they share many signals and biological processes, which control blood vessel leaking, with humans.

They’ll also treat the zebrafish with drugs that reduce VEGF activity, to see if they help to stop leakage and find out how they work.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

This research could help us understand why people with diabetes experience blood vessel leakiness and find new ways to treat it. In the future, this research could help to reduce serious complications, like vision loss and stroke, in people with diabetes.  

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