The risk factors' common denominator

It is well known that factors such as diabetes, overweight and ageing entail a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. But how exactly do they do so? By understanding the molecular mechanisms behind these correlations Professor Francesco Cosentino wants to save more people from contracting or dying of cardiovascular disease.

Professor Francesco Cosentino. Photo: Stefan Zimmerman

Despite great progress in healthcare, cardiovascular disease continues to be the major cause of illness and death in the world. In order to be able to develop new and even better treatments we need to understand what actually happens when the disease arises, explains Francesco Cosentino, Professor of Clinical Cardiovascular Research.

“It is well known that factors such as diabetes, overweight and ageing increase the risk of cardiovascular disease,” he says. ”One common denominator for these three factors is that the blood vessels are subjected to oxidative stress, i.e. an overproduction of free radicals. In this context we are studying the triggering of oxidative stress in blood vessel walls by the molecular mechanisms.”

Francesco Cosentino is also a consultant at the Cardiology Clinic at Karolinska University Hospital and his research ranges from the laboratory bench to clinical trials.

One relatively new focus for Francesco Cosentino’s research group is epigenetics, i.e. a dynamic phenomenon that influences when and how different genes are activated without any change in the actual DNA sequence. Epigenetic changes are reversible, so they are of great interest as targets for future therapies, he explains.

Recently there has been speculation about whether a high blood sugar level can make an epigenetic imprint that results in what is called a hyperglycemic memory. Francesco Cosentino and his colleagues in the research group have been able to demonstrate and describe this phenomenon in laboratory experiments.

“This concerns epigenetic changes in prooxidative and proinflammatory genes. In our most recent study we have been able to show the existence of hyperglycemic memory in humans.”

Text: Anders Nilsson, first published in "Från Cell till Samhälle", 2014.

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