portrait of Dr Ahmetaj-ShalaISSF Springboard Fellowship

Blood outgrowth vascular cells: studies towards human autologous vascular bioassays and vessel constructs

How cells grown out from blood can help us learn more about blood vessels in health and disease

Arteries and veins are made of endothelial cells on the inside of vessels and smooth muscle cells that are underneath. Much of what we know about cardiovascular disease has been discovered by looking at these cells grown from arteries or veins taken in surgery or after death. Now stem cell research has provided scientists with a way of growing endothelial cells from a small sample of blood from patients with disease. What we need now is to find a way of testing the smooth muscle cells from patients so that we can, in the future, find out how their disease is being treated and which drugs to give. There is a way to grow smooth muscle cells from blood samples but this work is very new and not well studied. My aim is to learn more about these cells – where they are coming from, what do they do in a normal/ healthy setting and how does this change in disease/ infection? We can then use these cells to make a ‘window into the circulation’ that we can use to understand diseases such as pulmonary hypertension. Ultimately, this work has potential to be used to test new drugs, personalized medicine and in the future for tissue engineering (growing blood vessels).


I am a research scientist working at the National Heart & Lung Institute at Imperial College London. I hold a BSc in Pharmaceutical Sciences and MSc in Analytical Chemistry with Management obtained from Kingston University. I completed my PhD in 2013 in the laboratory of Dr Francesca Arrigoni and Prof James Leiper (MRC Clinical Science Centre), studying the role of the nitric oxide pathway on macrophage function and its association to diseases such as sepsis and atherosclerosis. I then joined Prof Jane Mitchell's group at Imperial College London to investigate novel biomarkers or mechanisms which contribute to NSAID ('Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs') induced cardiovascular side-effects. My current research is embedded in progenitor/vascular cell biology and focuses on using blood outgrowth endothelial and smooth muscle cells to study how vascular diseases such as pulmonary hypertension happen and how patients with specific diseases can be best treated in a personalised way.