New BME faculty member Dr. Bill Polacheck and a team of Harvard scientists have discovered a new cell signaling pathway that is a promising target for drugs to treat a variety of conditions, including cancer and cardiovascular diseases. The study, published this month in Nature, outlines how the well-known Notch protein is responsible for keeping blood vessels from becoming leaky. When blood flow is disrupted, like during surgical procedures or even strokes, blood vessels can begin to leak, which can cause a myriad of negative inflammatory responses. The researchers utilized a blood-vessel-on-a-chip model that allowed them to easily simulate and control the flow of blood through a vessel and evaluate the cells’ responses. As a result, the team realized that adjusting the Notch protein affected the rate at which blood is able to leak through the outside of the vessel, which in turn meant that the protein regulates blood vessel leakage through a heretofore unknown secondary signaling pathway. “In retrospect, we rolled the dice with this project, because by choosing to investigate Notch we were entering one of the most crowded research areas in biology. But our engineering-based approach let us study it in a new way, without the influence or bias of past work, which I think is what made us open-minded enough to observe and characterize this new, unexpected pathway,” says Bill. This discovery of a secondary Notch signaling pathway could have far-reaching effects on healthcare, one of which is the creation of safer, more effective cancer and cardiovascular therapeutics.

See more about the project and the team’s investigators at the Wyss Institute website.

Congratulations to Bill and the whole team on this great outcome!