Computer simulations show mechanisms behind vascular development

The vascular system continuously forms new capillaries throughout the life of an organism. This is necessary for growth and healing. The same process is also involved in various pathological processes, such as tumour growth and eye diseases. Computational biologist Margriet Palm of CWI used simulated experiments to investigate vascular development.

Publication date: 29-09-2014

The vascular system continuously forms new capillaries throughout the life of an organism. This is necessary for growth and healing. The same process is also involved in various pathological processes, such as tumour growth and eye diseases. Computational biologist Margriet Palm of CWI used simulated experiments to investigate vascular development. She will defend her thesis High-throughput simulation studies of angiogenesis on Tuesday 30 September at Leiden University.

In vascular development, new blood vessels develop from existing vessels and thereby form a network. In her thesis, Palm investigated how the interaction between various types of cells is responsible for development of new vascular networks. Using large numbers of computer simulations, in which the properties of the cell types were varied systematically, she simulated the development of a vascular network. She used this to determine which cell properties are responsible for network patterns found in lab experiments. The type of vascular network that develops was shown to depend on the extent to which cells secrete or respond to chemical attractants  and the locations of the cell types. It was also shown that elongated cells can form a network without any chemical attractants present.

The results of this research are not only useful for understanding processes such as tumour growth, eye diseases and wound healing, but can also be used in tissue engineering, the development of artificial organs and tissue. A proper understanding of the processes behind vascular development allows for the creation of vascular networks in artificial tissues that can attach to the vascular system.

Using computers to simulate biological experiments is an emerging field in biology. These simulations are valuable in determining the underlying mechanisms of processes and patterns found in the lab. At CWI, a group of systems biologists investigates models and simulations of biological system within the Life Sciences theme, from a mathematics and computer science point of view.

 

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