Examining blood flow in Scleroderma and Raynaud’s: A research study working with patients

Date: Fri 21st September 2018

Dr. Victoria Flower, based in Bath, is working on a new research project, fully entitled, 'The role of Hypoxia Inducible Factor and Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor in microvascular dysfunction and fibrosis in Systemic sclerosis', to examine factors that may be affecting blood flow in people with Scleroderma and Raynaud's.

There are three main features in systemic scleroderma: blood vessel abnormalities, inflammation and scar tissue formation.

Normally when healthy skin is deprived of oxygen, proteins such as HIF and VEGF are produced by tissue cells to promote blood vessel formation. The new blood vessels formed are able to then provide the skin with oxygen and nutrients through the blood supply. People who have Raynaud's Phenomenon and/or scleroderma cannot form the new blood vessels properly, which means that the skin continues to be deprived of oxygen. This leads to painful complications like digital ulcers and in severe cases, internal organ problems.

During the early phase of scleroderma, large blood vessels seem to form but as the condition progresses, new blood vessel formation is not detected. In people who have scleroderma, clinical researchers often detect high levels of HIF and VEGF, but it is thought that there is something wrong with VEGF and that it is actually preventing new blood vessel formation.

Dr Victoria Flower, who is based in Bath, is working to understand if there is a change in HIF and VEGF production during the early and late stages of scleroderma. If she can identify an additional protein or other molecule then that means we can potentially target this therapeutically so that HIF and VEGF can be produced normally and form new blood vessels.

Her study involves collaborating with people who have systemic scleroderma to take small skin biopsies that can then be cultured in the laboratory and used to test various therapeutics and interventions. During these tests, HIF and VEGF are monitored closely to determine whether there is any effect. This work is crucial because it is not just focussing on finding a cause, but also a suitable treatment.

Recruitment of people with systemic sclerosis was a success, with a huge amount of interest from community members. We are hoping to be able to share the results of this exciting work by spring.

If you'd like to ensure SRUK can continue to make research projects like this happen then please head to our donations page. It is through the generosity of our wonderful community that we can continue the research into finding treatments and eventually find a cure for Scleroderma and Raynaud's.