Endothelial cell granted superhero status in invited research presentation

Kathryn L. Howe

“The endothelial cell is the superhero of the vascular system,” Kathryn L. Howe, MD, PhD, FRSCS, a vascular surgeon-scientist at the University of Toronto in Toronto, Canada, argued during an invited research presentation in Plenary Session 2 at VAM 2023.

Howe detailed that the endothelial cell acts as a “gateway to health and disease,” forming an interface between blood and tissue and governing the function of vessels and also the organs they supply. They are also a “rich source of biomarkers” and a “powerful therapeutic agent,” the presenter added.

“I would like to put forward the case that there is a parallel between Superman and the superpowers that we see of the endothelial cell,” Howe went on to say in Potomac A/B.

Howe listed three key arguments in support of this statement, signposting first the idea that both Superman and endothelial cells are considered guardians. While Superman has the ability to act like a shield, the presenter said, the endothelial cell—as a structural divide between the vessel lumen and the vessel wall—could be a therapeutic target but also a delivery module.

Both are also “more than they appear,” Howe continued. “In the case of Superman, he is more than a mild-mannered reporter,” she stated, likening this to the fact that endothelial cells are more than a single layer of cells, but in fact are “heavy orchestrators of cell-cell communication”.

Finally, the presenter contended that both have crucial roles, elaborating that they respond to their environment and can shift identity. “In the case of Superman, this is in the form of super skills; for endothelial cells, this is in the form of cell plasticity and changing their identity.”

Just like Superman, however, Howe pointed out that endothelial cells have a kryptonite. Smoking, sleep habits, diet, sedentary activity, diabetes, obesity, dyslipidemia and hypertension are “all factors that undermine the power of the endothelial cell,” the presenter stressed.

So, what can vascular surgeons do? To this question, Howe had a clear answer: “We can deliver exceptional vascular care by promoting endothelial health for all.”


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