A report by Francesca Bartoli-Leonard
Division of Translational Cardiovascular Science, Centre for Biomedicine, Manchester Metropolitan University
The Asia-Pacific Vascular Biology Organisation (APVBO) Meeting was held at Sun Yat-Sen University in the metropolitan city of Guangzhou in the Guandong province of China, on the 9-12th May 2019. This meeting draws together both academic and research-leading international experts from around the globe, ranging from the US, Finland and Australia, and is one of the key meetings within the Pacific region that allows cutting edge research and techniques within the vascular field to be discussed.
As a PhD student with a background in immunology working on vascular calcification within the cardiovascular group in Manchester Metropolitan University, it was exciting to hear about the recent advances in distinguishing the differentiation patterning of both endothelial and smooth muscle cells, highlighting endothelial-to mesenchymal transition (Endo-MT). APVBO are among the few vascular biology conferences offering the breadth of talks focusing on the relationship and distinction between the lymphatic and vascular systems. With angiogenesis at the forefront of most vascular meetings these days, it was interesting to hear it applied in not only the concept of diabetic retinopathy, but also in interesting and unique pathologies such as cerebral cavernous malformations (CCM) and arteriovenous malformations (AVM), superbly discussed by both Professor Wang Min of Yale and Professor Rong Wang from UCSF respectively.
There were many talks regarding the metabolic control of angiogenesis that were insightful, but Dr Hodivala-Dilke was outstanding due to her work on the novel role of Focal Adhesion Kinase (FAK) in increasing endothelial and fibroblast proliferation. She convincingly demonstrated that increased FAK expression reduces chemo-sensitivity in both breast and pancreatic cancer patients and that the loss of FAK solely within the endothelial cell compartment of a tumour was able reduce tumour growth via increasing susceptibility to DNA damaging chemo-therapies, possibly negating the need for multiple invasive surgeries if utilised correctly. This talk was brilliantly complemented by Professor Yihai Cao’s work from the Karolinska Institute, where he discussed the role of antiangiogenic cancer therapy and the mechanistic challenges and clinical implications that follow. Interestingly, Professor Yihai noted that whilst more recently anti-cancer drugs have been in concordance with anti-angiogenesis treatments, there has been little success in the translation to the clinic, compared to the comparatively good results generated with pre-clinical models. He stressed that, whilst we are still far from fully understanding the mechanisms in which anti-angiogenic medications work in cancer treatment, better prediction markers must be identified if we are to notably target earlier prevention and improve patient outcomes in the future.
Cell heterogeneity and differentiation were also hot topics at this conference, with much discussion focusing on endothelial heterogeneity following vascular injury and inflammation. Doctor Jalees Rehman of The University of Illinois College of Medicine spoke in depth on the understanding of tissue specific molecular signatures, using single cell RNA-seq to identify novel sub-populations of endothelial cells, with distinct functions. Furthermore, he discussed at great length the comparative use of FACS sorting compared to the RiboTag model, the latter of which utilises a pulldown method in which he demonstrated a 0% contamination level with other cell types, compared to negatively sorting FACS, in which cells may get wrongly sorted, decreasing clustering accuracy and blurring our understanding of the precise inflammatory profile these sub-populations gain following injury. Moreover, the RiboTag method allows the mice to be crossed with cell type specific Cre recombinase, and expression of the epitope tagged protein is activated in the cell type of interest only, instead of having to isolate the organ beforehand, reducing the time taken from harvesting to sequencing.
Finally, I would like to thank the BSCR for awarding me this travel grant which allowed me to attend this interesting and educational event and visit a culturally enriching part of the world, and that I would never have had the opportunity to go to otherwise. This meeting was superbly conducted from start to finish and has greatly expanded my knowledge not only in the basic science of the vasculature, but also expanded my translational knowledge in a wide range of pathologies. I had the opportunity to participate in many interesting and in-depth discussions, and with the knowledge gained and connections made during this meeting, I look forward to continuing my research into this cutting edge field in the future.