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Victoria Bautch, PhD, was recently awarded $6.5 million from the National Institutes of Health and the National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute. The award will enable the Bautch Lab to study the molecular and cellular control of angiogenesis, a naturally occurring process responsible for the formation and growth of blood vessels.

Dr. Victoria Bautch, Co-director of UNC McAllister Heart Institute

Angiogenesis is controlled by chemical signals which play an important role in healing and the survival of vascular networks, carrying oxygen and nutrients throughout the body,” said Victoria Bautch, PhD, Distinguished Professor, Chair of Biology and Co-Director of UNC McAllister Heart Institute. “However, changes in metabolic activity can lead to consistent changes in angiogenesis, and to vessel blockage, which can become a mechanism for the spread of disease. Learning how the body controls angiogenesis can help us treat heart disease.”

The Role of Blood Vessels

The heart needs oxygen and nutrients from coronary blood vessels, and these vessels are most often blocked during a heart attack. Some people may experience less damage with the same blockage because they have alternate routes known as collateral vessels, that bypass the blockage to the muscle layers. These alternate vessels are likely formed via angiogenesis.

Abnormal blood vessel growth is also believed to have a critical role in diseases like the spread of cancer, stimulating normal cells to produce angiogenic signaling molecules that feed growing tumors. This can allow cancer cells to invade nearby tissue, and to metastasize by moving throughout the body.

Potential for Therapeutic Value

The Outstanding Investigator Award will allow the Bautch Lab to open new directions in understanding how blood vessels form during development and function in organ tissue such as the heart. Knowing how they are controlled will have vast implications for both preventing and managing disease.

“Stimulation of angiogenesis has the potential to be therapeutic in heart disease because angiogenic signals are believed to form new coronary vessels, which can augment collateral vessels after a heart attack,” said Bautch.

Bautch is a member of the Integrative Program for Biological and Genome Sciences (iBGS) and the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. Research in Bautch’s lab supported by this grant will further the mission of the UNC McAllister Heart Institute.