Blood vessels are essential for efficient transport of oxygen and nutrients throughout the body, and play a crucial role in tumor growth and wound healing. Sonja Boas, PhD student in CWI's Life Sciences group, developed new techniques to study vascular growth computationally. The results of her research provide a better understanding into mechanisms behind vascular growth, which is relevant to the development of medical therapies. She defends her thesis 'Computational modeling of angiogenesis' on Tuesday 22 December 2015 at Leiden University. Promotor is Prof. Roeland Merks.
Vascular development is initiated when oxygen-deprived areas such as tumors or wounds send signals to the surrounding blood vessels, indicating that new vessels are needed. This growth process has been studied experimentally for a long time. Recently, computational research has developed into an important addition to experimental research. Computer simulations are crucial for a better understanding of vascular growth (angiogenesis).
In her thesis, Boas models three steps in angiogenesis. First, she develops a new model that simulates interactions between cells and fibrin, an extracellular matrix formed e.g. during wound healing. These interactions emerge when activated blood vessel cells break down fibrin to allow growth. Secondly, Boas simulated, more extensively than existing models, the dynamics of cell-cell interactions that cause blood vessels to sprout. The third model includes the process of blood vessel hollowing. This research addresses a scientific debate on the mechanisms of blood vessel hollowing, originating from 1856. The model of Boas is an essential step forward in this discussion, providing a possible explanation for the contradictory experimental observations in the debate.
In the final part of her thesis, Boas introduces a method for studying the influence of various parameters on the end result of modeling. Despite many attempts towards biological falsification, it has not yet been determined to what extend angiogenesis is driven by chemical signaling, cell-cell interactions or interactions between cells and the extracellular matrix. Boas's method is a new tool that helps to falsify models and find the role of various mechanisms in angiogenesis.
This research is funded by the Vidi grant of Roeland Merks, awarded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) in 2010.
Image: Angiogenesis in a mouse retina. Wyss Institute, Harvard