VRIC input in 2021 helped strengthen research, says award-winner

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The Society for Vascular Surgery (SVS) Vascular Research Initiatives Conference (VRIC) in 2021 helped Sriganesh (Sri) Sharma, MD, better understand his own work. 

During the free-wheeling discussion following his presentation, “I got a lot of meaningful input into my research,” he said. “I was introduced to perspectives of my own research that I hadn’t thought of before.” 

Under the mentorship of Andrea Obi, MD, at the University of Michigan, Sharma studied the intersection of inflammation and coagulation as it pertains to COVID-19 patients, with a goal of creating a therapy that would protect COVID-positive patients from blood clots. The timing was fortuitous; Sharma joined Obi’s lab with an interest in immunology, including the immunology of blood-clotting. “The pandemic had just started,” he said. “It seemed like a very compelling question without many answers.” 

The abstract on his research was not only selected for presentation at VRIC 2021 (held during the 2021 Vascular Annual Meeting) it also was judged as one of the top four among trainees, earning him and three researchers the SVS Foundation VRIC Trainee Travel Award. (His conclusions: “The coronavirus infection inflammatory state induces MLL1 and urokinase expression in bone marrow derived Mφs and circulating Mφs. MLL1- urokinase regulation contributes to the hyperfibrinolytic phenotype seen in critically ill patients with COVID-19 and represents a potential immunotarget to curb fibrinolysis.”) 

VRIC draws from throughout the field of vascular biology and the conference is well-known for the robust and instructive discussion following presentations. “It’s a fantastic venue,” said Sharma. “I love that the presentations are from different fields in vascular biology and from people at different levels of training.” 

“It’s a diverse crowd with diverse perspectives,” Obi agreed. And because of that, plus the almost ubiquitous problem of blood clots from across almost all specialties and fields, Sharma said. 

He has continued his work with Obi, with a manuscript set for publication, and he hopes his findings since a year ago, with much more now known, are selected for presentation this year. “This is a fascinating subject to study. I thought it would be a flash in the pan when I started,” Sharma said. “But what we found is incredibly interesting and we want to learn more about it.” 

Where the goal was once to create a therapy protecting COVID patients, the two now see broader applications. “We’ve known for 30 years that these innate immune cells are involved in thrombosis” said Obi. “But to date, no one has come up with an immune therapy to target it.” 

Those experiencing clots typically are put on blood thinners, but the side effect of bleeding can be problematic and sometimes life-threatening. 

“Maybe we can get rid of the clotting propensity without putting a patient on thinners,” said Obi. “That’s what Sri is studying.” Coincidentally, given Sharma’s work in immunology, this year’s conference theme is “Translational Immunology and Cardiovascular Disease.” Sharma will feel at home. 

VRIC 2022 will be held Wednesday, May 11, in Seattle. Registration has opened. Visit vascular.org/VRIC22 to register and for more information. 

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