Atlas for a better view of atherosclerosis

Atlas for a better view of atherosclerosis

Sander van der Laan

If scientists know more about atherosclerosis, they may in the future develop new treatments for cardiovascular diseases that can occur in people with atherosclerosis. A better view of atherosclerosis is possible by creating an atlas of cell types involved. Researchers from UMC Utrecht and University of Virginia together received a $200,000 grant to make this atlas. 

In people with atherosclerosis, the wall of the arteries thickens due to calcification and plaque forms. With the grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, assistant professor Sander van der Laan from UMC Utrecht and assistant professors Clint Miller and Chongzhi Zang from University of Virginia in the U.S. will together create an atlas of atherosclerotic cell types and the role of these cell types in the formation of such plaques. Sander explains: "We are going to create an atlas showing what different cell types, or 'single-cells', are found in the plaques of the coronary artery and carotid artery in adults. With this atlas, we can develop new treatments in the future for diseases such as heart attack, stroke, TIA, or intermittent claudication, which can occur in people with arteriosclerosis."


For the atlas of different cell types, the three researchers use datasets that are available to everyone, including one that the researchers recently published about. "Our main goal of this 'single-cell' atlas, called MetaPlaq, is to map out exactly which cell types and transitional cell subtypes are involved in the formation and progression of plaques. The MetaPlaq atlas will give us clues about the role of vascular and immune cells and the specific cell types responsible for plaques.", Clint explains.

Atlas for all scientists

When the atlas is ready, all scientists in the field of complex genetics and single-cell research can use it as a reference in genome-wide association studies. In this way, scientists around the world will be able to use a comprehensive open-source single-cell web-portal for arterial calcification, entirely in the spirit of Open Science. Clint: "This web portal is designed for all (clinical) researchers, not just for colleagues who can handle large data sets. Many more fellow researchers can gain relevant insights into the various cell types and molecular mechanisms via MetaPlaq. We also think that our atlas will thus provide them with possible entry points for the development of new drugs against atherosclerosis."

Disease risks and new treatments

The research by Sander van der Laan, Clint Miller and Chongzhi Zang will take about 1.5 years. The trio: "We expect that integration of public data and further data analyses will ensure that we get a better idea of which genes are expressed and which cell types are important. Thanks to the plaque atlas, we can take a step towards developing new biomarkers, substances that you can measure in the blood, enabling you to determine what the disease risks are for patients. Our plaque atlas also makes it possible to develop new treatments for cardiovascular disease in the future."

Working at UMC Utrecht





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