Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada/AstraZeneca Research Fellowship - Esfandiarei

Dr. Mitra Esfandiarei
University of British Columbia

Blocked arteries in the heart caused by coronary artery disease and atherosclerosis – a hardening of the arteries caused by a build-up of plaque – occur quite frequently in people with type 2 diabetes. Heart disease and stroke account for about 65 per cent of deaths in people with diabetes. As ‘adult-onset’ diabetes increases around the world, researchers are seeking new therapeutic strategies to head off such complications.
Dr. Mitra Esfandiarei, a post-doctoral fellow with the University of British Columbia’s Child and Family Research Institute, is studying how smooth muscle cells build up along blood vessel walls. This process represents a crucial step in the development of atherosclerotic plaques. The mechanisms that accelerate it in diabetic patients are still largely unknown.
Dr. Esfandiarei is looking specifically at a particular molecule, called integrin-linked kinase, which transmits signals between cells. The surface of smooth muscle cells feature receptors for this molecule, which suggests a means of controlling the migration and accumulation of these cells. This same kind of signalling has similarly been examined as a candidate for suppressing the growth of cancerous tumours.
With a better understanding of how the biochemical conditions created by diabetes –which include high levels of glucose, lipids, and insulin – affect the signalling between smooth muscle cells, the activity of integrin-linked kinase may turn out to be a good target for treating or even preventing the problems leading to heart failure. And changes in the signals relayed by this activity could also serve as an important means of diagnosing such issues before they become serious.
Dr. Esfandiarei’s work is supervised by Dr. Cornelis van Breemen. 
Supported by AstraZeneca Canada Inc.