News | Weill Cornell Medical College | Cornell University

The Inside Story: Cell Biology of Stroke, Heart Attack and Cancer

Secrets Our Blood Reveals

Katherine Hajjar, M.D., is a tenacious sleuth when it comes to understanding a bodily function that many of us prefer to ignore — the flow of our blood. Specifically, blood vessels and how they grow.

“In all of us every day, there is in our bodies a natural process going on — called ‘angiogenesis’ — the process of forming new blood vessels. The good news is that this process helps wounds heal, helps children grow, and renews our vital organs. Some of the same molecules that promote blood vessel growth also appear to keep the blood in a fluid state, preventing dangerous clots from forming.

“The bad news is that, when it occurs in the wrong place or at the wrong time, angiogenesis can also promote the growth and spread of a tumor, or can damage vital organs, such as the retina in the back of the eye,” says Katherine Hajjar, M.D., Brine Family Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology, Professor of Pediatrics, and Chair of the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology.

Dr. Hajjar and her colleagues at Weill Cornell are finding clues to how to control the “bad news” by looking at molecules on “endothelial” cells, the cells that form the lining of existing blood vessels and also form new ones.

What they are discovering may offer new treatments for cancer growth and spread, heart disease, strokes, thrombosis, and even a form of blindness caused by excess growth of blood vessels behind the eye.

Practical applications may take 10 to 15 years, Dr. Hajjar estimates, but she makes clear that she is in it for the long haul.

Weill Cornell: Making It Possible

“It’s a privilege to be able to do something that might benefit humankind, and Weill Cornell is a wonderful place to do this research. We’re on the cusp of a revolution in science. The human genome has been sequenced. Now we have this wealth of information at our fingertips. It’s exciting to learn to understand it as much as we possibly can, because it is revealing secrets that are improving human health.”

The Research Leads to Cures Initiative

Dr. Hajjar and other Weill Cornell scientists are dedicated to the development of effective, safe treatments that lead to many dangerous illnesses. These researchers are the heart of the Research Leads to Cures Initiative — a critical phase of the Discoveries that Make a Difference Campaign. Learn more about the people leading these efforts to create a healthier future for us all.

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