Paul Huang, MD, PhD
My laboratory studies how atherosclerosis—narrowing and hardening of the arteries—occurs. Atherosclerosis leads to abnormalities in blood vessels and eventually affects the flow of blood. When atherosclerosis occurs in the arteries that supply blood to the heart, it can lead to a type of chest pain called angina and heart attacks. When it occurs in arteries that supply blood to the brain, it can cause stroke. People who smoke, or have high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol are at increased risk for atherosclerosis. Our laboratory is studying how these risk factors work to affect the development of atherosclerosis.
In particular, we focus on the cells that line blood vessels, called endothelial cells. Endothelial cells produce many factors that are important to normal blood vessel function, including nitric oxide (NO), a gas that dilates blood vessels. The Nobel Prize for Medicine was given in 1998 for the discovery of the importance of NO to blood vessel function. There is evidence that NO is protective, and a lack of NO may be important in changes that eventually lead to atherosclerosis. We are studying the enzymes that make NO to see how high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity affect them. We hope to figure out the precise connections between the risk factors and atherosclerosis so we can devise new ways to treat and prevent heart disease and stroke.
Our work to date has demonstrated the importance of NO in endothelial function using disease models in animal systems. We are now focusing on the intersection between metabolic diseases such as obesity and diabetes, and precisely how they affect blood vessel function and lead to the development of atherosclerosis. Our recent work demonstrates that by altering the enzyme that produces NO, we can affect the outcome to stroke, and reduce stroke size. The implications for our work include new methods for the treatment and prevention of heart attacks, stroke, and high blood pressure. Furthermore, we hope to understand the mechanisms by which obesity and diabetes lead to heart disease.
Massachusetts General Hospital
Cardiovascular Research Center
149 13th Street, 4.101
Charlestown, MA 02129