Learning how vascular permeability is controlled

Christer Betsholtz, Professor of Vascular and Tumour Biology at Uppsala University. Photograph: Mikael Wallerstedt

The blood vessels in the body release substances along their entire length, but in different ways in different organs. Currently we have only a diffuse picture of what this flow looks like. Better knowledge will enhance our possibilities for treating everything from tissue oedema to Alzheimer’s disease, psychoses and brain tumours.

Acquiring such knowledge is the most important aim of a new, world-leading research programme at the Rudbeck Laboratory at Uppsala University, which has now received 59 million Swedish kronor from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation.

Blood and lymph vessels are not simple pipes that transport blood and lymph from one place to another. They let through substances such as water, ions, proteins, cells and drugs, along their entire length. But if they let the wrong substances through, in the wrong quantities, at the wrong time and at the wrong place, problems arise.

Altered permeability in the walls of blood and lymph vessels is present in as good as all serious diseases, such as cancer, where it can prevent drugs from passing from the blood into the tissues and the cancer cells.

‘Through this project, we’re hoping to get a more detailed and integrated picture of how the permeability of blood and lymph vessels is regulated,’ says Christer Betsholtz, Professor of Vascular and Tumour Biology at Uppsala University. ‘That knowledge can be used to try to control the permeability and thus enable us to find more effective ways of treating cancer and diseases of the brain, for example.’

Leap forward in development of knowledge

Professor Betsholtz is one of five world-leading research scientists involved in the new project. Alongside his colleagues Lena Claesson-Welsh, Elisabetta Dejana, Katie Bentley, Taija Mäkinen and their respective research groups, he is expecting to benefit from significant synergy effects when the groups come together to consider common questions in a concentrated research environment at the Rudbeck Laboratory. The first stage of the research project will last five years.

‘The aim of course is to publish a lot of new and important basic knowledge. But our ambition is also to start developing new drugs and perhaps also find time to start clinical trials on humans during that period. At any event we will have deepened our knowledge of vascular diseases. We are expecting surprises along the way and to find that reality looks different to how we imagined. This can be a real leap forward in the development of knowledge,’ explains Christer Betsholtz.