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Holger Gerhardt

Vascular Patterning Laboratory

The establishment of a functional network of blood vessels is critical for all aspects of tissue growth in physiology and disease. Our recent work at the London Research Institute on tip cell induction, selection, sprout elongation, anastomosis and stabilization/regression unravelled important principles of vascular patterning. Our research activities at the Center for Cancer Biology VIB aim to translate our basic findings and tip cell biology concept into clinically relevant models of tumour angiogenesis and ischemic disease, with a particular focus on functional vascular imaging.

Current limitations in tumour angiogenesis research call for a new approach to analyse experimental tumour models and to classify angiogenic sprouting as well as blood vessel quality in human tumours. Translating our tip cell concept into the tumour angiogenesis will require establishment of imaging technology for high-resolution detection of endothelial morphology in 3D, analysis of gene expression, and monitoring of functional vessel parameters over time, including lumenization and perfusion, as well as measuring the relevant response of the tumour tissue. To this end, we will develop transgenic models for tip cell visualization in tumours and dynamic reporters for key signalling components in vascular patterning. The integrated research program between the Vascular Biology Lab at the MDC and the Vascular Patterning Lab at VIB will combine experimental and computational models of vascular patterning, endothelial cell competition assays, transcriptional profiling, transgenic loss of function models and live imaging.

It is our vision that a successful establishment of functional endothelial cell markers for vascular imaging, including tip cell characterization in tumour samples will aid the classification of human tumour angiogenesis and stimulate the refinement of anti-angiogenesis and vessel normalization therapy.