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The post is in association with a Tutorial Fellowship at Christ Church College.

© British Heart Foundation

I am delighted to announce that Associate Professor Nicola Smart has been appointed to the APTF in cellular and integrative physiology in association with Christ Church College. Nicola received her undergraduate degree from the University of Kent and her PhD from the University of London. She undertook post-doctoral training at King's College, London, and a BHF Intermediate Basic Science Fellowship with Professor Paul Riley's group when it was based at the UCL Institute of Child Health. Nicola received the inaugural BHF Fellow of the Year Award in 2011. She joined the Department in 2012, having been awarded a BHF Senior Basic Science Fellowship, and the British Cardiovascular Society's Michael Davis Early Career Award that same year. She was also the recipient of the much sought after named BHF Ian Fleming Fellowship, which was renewed with her Senior BHF Fellowship in 2019. Nicola is a rising star in cardiovascular research, and recently received the prestigious John French Prize Lecture from the British Atherosclerosis Society." - Head of Department Professor David Paterson

Research in the Smart Lab has uncovered new therapeutic targets for vascular protection and cardiac regeneration by revealing new insights into how the cardiovascular system forms in the embryo. In one line of research, the lab demonstrated that developmental mechanisms of coronary vessel growth are partially recapitulated in the adult heart after injury. By identifying critical stimuli, such as Thymosin b4, that drive these processes, Prof Smart’s research has revealed the ability to recapture the “embryonic potential” within the adult heart for repair after heart attack. Key findings can be found in the world’s leading science journal Nature, volumes 445 and 474.

Prof Smart and her team have also shown that the mechanisms used to promote the formation of stable, smooth muscle-lined vessels in the embryo crucially serve to protect throughout life against diseases, such as atherosclerosis and aortic aneurysm. This led Smart lab researchers to identify a novel regulatory pathway (Thymosin b4 - Filamin A - LRP1) controlling smooth muscle cell behaviour, which may in future be targeted to offer much-needed treatments for vascular disease.

Smooth Muscle Cell© Smooth Muscle Cell (Nicola Smart)

The department would now like to congratulate Nicola Smart on her appointment as Associate Professor in Cellular and Integrative Physiology and Tutorial Fellow at Christ Church College.

The Smart Lab will continue to pursue two key aims under the new associate professorship. The first is to enhance the inadequate regenerative capacity of the mammalian heart, and the second is to promote vascular protection. To achieve both objectives, the lab will translate insights from embryonic development into the adult. Specifically, they will focus on the endocardium, as a primary contributor of coronary vasculature, and on the epicardium, which promotes vessel growth and myocardial formation in development and disease. In parallel, the lab will build on recent findings to elaborate the vasculoprotective mechanisms of Thymosin b4 and establish a solid basis for future clinical application.

On receipt of her appointment, Associate Professor Nicola Smart said: “Whilst my BHF Fellowships have enabled me to prioritise research and establish a strong team of talented and motivated scientists, I have always enjoyed teaching. This joint post gives me an opportunity to engage with medical students and the Christ Church community, while simultaneously providing the continuity I need to plan longer term, more ambitious, research projects.”

Growth of coronary vessels during development© Growth of coronary vessels during development (Sonali Munshaw)

For more information on Nicola Smart’s research:

Nicola Smart to deliver John French Lecture

New target identified to develop treatment for Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

Potential strategy identified to improve blood vessel growth after heart attack

BHF Senior Fellowship renewal for Nicola Smart paves the way for stimulating vessel growth to repair damaged hearts

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