I’m a vascular researcher who studies the molecular mechanisms of vascular formation. I aim to apply my scientific findings to the development of new treatment strategies for human vascular disorders.
The mechanisms that control vasculogenesis (blood vessel formation de novo) and angiogenesis (blood vessels that sprout from existing vessels) are still poorly understood. Fortunately, the zebrafish has emerged as an advantageous model organism to study how the evolutionarily conserved network of vertebrate blood vessels form during development — and to discover mechanisms that regulate this development.
Because transparent zebrafish embryos develop externally, we can easily observe the finest details of blood vessel development in live embryos using light microscopy. Also, zebrafish embryos often develop for several days in the complete absence of blood circulation, which allows for an accurate analysis of defects in vascular mutants.
Because of these advantages, our lab utilizes zebrafish as a model to study the molecular mechanisms of vasculature development. We are examining transcriptional regulation during embryonic vasculogenesis and angiogenesis, as well as pathological vascular development, such as tumor angiogenesis. We are also performing screens for novel potential regulators of vasculature formation, followed by characterization and functional studies. Finally, we’re using zebrafish as a model system to identify genetic causes of different human vascular diseases, including intracranial aneurysms.
Among our major findings to date, we’ve used zebrafish embryos to demonstrate the distinct origin of arterial and venous progenitors, which led to a new model of arterial-venous specification. In another notable discovery, we identified developmental signals that regulate specification and differentiation of the heart endocardial layer. We’ve also identified collagen COL22A1 as a candidate gene affected in intracranial aneurysms and analyzed the ways transcription factor Etv2 regulates the choice between vascular endothelial, cardiomyocyte and skeletal muscle lineages.
My research is supported by a variety of internal and external funding. In 2017, I received an NIH R01 award for my study, "The role of Collagen COL22A1 in intracranial aneurysms and vascular stability."
Vascular development, angiogenesis, zebrafish models of human diseases
Associate Professor, UC Department of Pediatrics