Of Goldilocks, lungs and blood vessels

(Project Gutenberg/Wikimedia Commons)

(Arthur Rackham/Project Gutenberg & Wikimedia Commons)

Over at Boston Children’s Hospital’s Vector, I posted a couple of days ago about research on connections between how rigid or stiff lung tissue is and how leaky the blood vessels running through it are.

I call it the Golidilocks problem: just as she didn’t like porridge that was too hot or too cold, so too your blood vessels don’t like to be in organs that are too rigid or too flexible. What Akiko Mammoto, MD, PhD, and her mentor, Don Ingber, MD, PhD (who also runs Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering), found is that if the surrounding tissues aren’t just right, the cells lining the vessels don’t join up properly, and the vessels leak.

Why is this important? Leaking vessels let fluid slip out of the blood and pool in the surrounding tissues. In the case of someone with sepsis (a runaway reaction to a blood stream infection), the fluid pools in the lungs, causing what’s called pulmonary edema and basically drowning them.

Mammoto and Ingber did their research in a model of sepsis, finding that if they could keep the lungs’ flexibility in the blood vessels’ sweet spot, they could stop the leakage. If they can translate the results to humans, they could have the first direct treatment for the lung damage caused by sepsis, called ARDS:

“Currently, doctors can give antibiotics to treat sepsis causing ARDS, but have no way to treat ARDS itself,” Mammoto says. “But if we can come up with a way to change the lung microenvironment and counteract the effects of endotoxin [a bacterial toxin that fuels the sepsis reaction], it might give other treatments a better chance of success.”

Ingber concurs. “This could open up a new universe of agents for therapeutically targeting edema in any tissue caused by any number of conditions, such as sepsis, smoke inhalation, heart failure and more.”

To get all the science, head over to Vector and check the post out.

And in case you missed them, here are couple of other pieces I’ve posted there recently:

  • Aspirin might have a couple of new tricks up its sleeve. It’s known that cancer patients who take aspirin tend to do better. That may in part be because of aspirin’s effects on inflammation and blood clotting.
  • The Boston Marathon bombings took a huge physical toll on the survivors, many of whom face a long, difficult road to recovery. But apart from damage to their limbs, could they have suffered damage to their brains?
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