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Congratulations are in order for Associate Professor Sarah De Val, who has been awarded a renewal of her British Heart Foundation Senior Basic Science Research Fellowship. The award recognises her pioneering research on coronary vessel formation and differentiation.

I am delighted that the BHF has chosen to support my research for another five years. - Associate Professor Sarah De Val

De Val group research focuses on the signalling and transcriptional pathways that regulate vascular development and the potential implications for preventing ischemia and promoting tissue repair. With renewed BHF funding, Associate Professor Sarah De Val will investigate the transcriptional pathways controlling coronary and collateral arterial differentiation, taking an enhancer-centric approach to study how key arterial identity genes are activated or repressed in different circumstances.

The occlusion of a coronary artery, often due to factors such as fat build-up or blood clot formation, can lead to the interruption of blood flow and substantial tissue damage. While this can sometimes be prevented by collateral arteries (directly connecting two coronary arteries and providing a natural bypass), most people do not have enough collateral vessels and therefore suffer a heart attack. Although reperfusion therapy can partially restore blood flow, obstructions and debris often hinder effective recovery, highlighting the urgent need for improved treatments. 

The growth of a robust blood vessel network is crucial for the repair of heart muscle after a heart attack, and an improved network of collateral arteries can limit initial damage and improve recovery. However, our ability to control and manipulate blood vessel growth in the heart is limited by our incomplete understanding of the processes involved, specifically those governing arterial growth. 

Prof De Val's research, based at the Institute of Development and Regenerative Medicine, focuses on enhancers, which are the switches that turn genes on and off. Through enhancer analysis, she aims to identify the regulators of arterial genes during development and in response to heart injury. By unravelling the pathways that regulate coronary arterial differentiation, Prof De Val's research could lead to novel strategies for inducing and improving arterial growth. This has significant implications for preventing ischemia (restricted blood flow) and promoting tissue repair.