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Karlheinz Peter in the Atherothrombosis and Vascular laboratory Laboratory head: Professor Karlheinz Peter

The Atherothrombosis and Vascular Biology Laboratory pursues a broad range of projects that have the common focus on improving diagnosis and therapy of thrombotic and inflammatory diseases such as myocardial infarction and atherosclerosis. A range of biotechnological methods are used, including recombinant protein design/production, generation of functionalised nanoparticles/ lipsomes/microbubbles, cell culture, flow cytometry, flow chamber, intravital microscopy, ultrasound, MRI, PET various fluorescence imaging systems and various animal models of thrombosis, atherosclerosis and inflammation. All of these projects have a strong translational orientation, which is facilitated by several laboratory members (physicians/cardiologists) treating patients with cardiovascular diseases. Several of the research projects resulted in patents that are currently being further developed to ultimately improve the health of patients.

Work in the laboratory is particularly attractive for students/post docs who are interested in the development of advanced biotechnological tools for molecular imaging and novel therapeutics (e.g. regenerative stem cell therapy and microRNA for plaque stabilisation). The translational direction of the laboratory and the inclusion of patients in studies, such as the identification of vulnerable, rupture-prone atherosclerotic plaques, is highly attractive for physician scientists.

Research focus

  • Molecular imaging of thrombosis and inflammation using MRI, PET, ultrasound, FLECT, IVIS.
  • Novel recombinant therapeutics for thrombotic and inflammatory diseases.
  • Microfluidic flow chambers.
  • Intravital microscopy.
  • Flow cytometry.
  • Animal models of thrombosis and inflammation.
  • Production of recombinant proteins for diagnosis and therapy.
  • Diagnosis and treatment of patients with coronary artery disease and myocardial infarction.

Projects

C-reactive protein (CRP) as a pro-inflammatory system

We introduced a novel concept of the functional role of CRP as a ‘pro-inflammatory system'. This concept is based on our findings that pentameric (p)CRP can undergo a conformational change to monomeric (m)CRP, which is highly pro-inflammatory and pro-coagulant, and induces a localised inflammatory reaction that aggravates many diseases. We have shown that pCRP to mCRP dissociation occurs on the surface of ‘stressed cells', such as activated, necrotic or apoptotic cells, and on microparticles (MPs) circulating in blood. For example, the surface of activated platelets causes a rapid dissociation of pCR to mCRP. We have also described mCRP formation induced by misfolded proteins such as Alzheimer plaques as a clearance mechanism that can ‘overshoot' in pathological situations. We will now develop inhibitors of CRP dissociation that can form the basis of a novel therapeutic approach for a range of protein misfolding disorders, such as Alzheimer disease.

Mouse model of plaque instability/rupture

The high morbidity and mortality of atherosclerosis is typically precipitated by plaque rupture, consequent thrombosis and myocardial infarction. However, research on underlying mechanisms and therapeutic approaches has been hampered by the lack of animal models that reproduce the plaque instability seen in human atherosclerosis. We developed a unique, reliable mouse model based on flow measurements and computational fluid dynamics that resembles human plaque characteristics most closely. We use this unique model now 1) as a discovery tool to identify messenger RNA and microRNA (miR) associated with plaque rupture, 2) for developing/testing of potential plaque-stabilising drugs, and 3) developing various approaches in molecular imaging (MRI, PET, ultrasound) that will allow the specific detection of unstable, rupture-prone plaques.

Microfluidic flow chamber systems

We use a highly versatile microfluidics system as a tool to study shear stress related induction of coagulation and platelet activation under physiological and pathological flow patterns. In addition, this system allows for systematic testing of anti-thrombotic drugs under flow conditions.

Molecular imaging

We have developed a range of recombinant antibodies that allow targeting of activated platelets, the activated coagulation system, and activated monocytes. Thereby we can specifically image thrombotic and inflammatory processes. We have tailored these antibodies to be used in advanced imaging technologies such as MRI, PET, ultrasound and fluorescence imaging (FLECT, IVIS). We are investigating diseases including atherosclerosis (particularly plaque instability), myocardial infarction and inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. The biotechnological development of these contrast reagents and particles are an important and highly translational focus in our group.

Site-directed, targeted anti-platelet, anti-thrombotic, anti-inflammatory and regenerative cell therapy

Using biotechnological tools, we are developing drugs that will be enriched at areas of thrombosis or inflammation without reaching a significant systemic circulating concentration. This allows for example to develop anti-thrombotic, anti-platelet or clot-busting drugs that are highly effective but do not cause bleeding complications. The transport and enrichment of these drugs is achieved by using nanoparticles, liposomes, microbubbles and other high end targeting particles. In addition to targeting drugs, we have also developed a recombinant antibody delivery system that allows to specifically deliver stem cells as a regenerative cell therapeutic approach, e.g. for the therapy of myocardial infarction.

Staff

Scientific Staff
Dr Bock Lim
Joy Yao
Dr Xiaowei Wang
Dr Erik Westein

Students
Dr Jonathon Habersberger
Dr Nay Min Htun
Yulia Losev
Dr Jath Palasubramaniam
Chris Molloy
Ashish Nair
Thomas O'Donnell
Patrick Siebel
Kristina Zaldiva

Visiting Scientist on Sabbatical
Professor Vibeke Videm, Norway

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