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New NUANCE staff research explores role of c-Abl Kinase protein in pulmonary cell function

February is American Heart Month, reminding Americans to focus on their heart health. According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S., killing an American every 38 seconds.

Researchers at Northwestern University’s Atomic and Nanoscale Characterization Experimental (NUANCE) Center recently published findings in Scientific Reports about the structure and function of cells within the pulmonary arteries.

The entire organization of the human body is incredibly delicate — even the organization of molecular pieces that make up a cell affects its ability to function.

In this case scientists wanted to understand the structure of and relationship between the components of pulmonary endothelial cells, which form the lining within the pulmonary arteries. To form an effective barrier, the components of these cells must rearrange themselves in order to make the cell harden. Understanding the function and health of these particular cells is crucial because their deterioration is a key factor in the development of a variety of serious clinical conditions.

Researchers utilized atomic force microscopy — a very high-resolution type microscopy that scans specimens and produces images on an atomic level — to see how a certain protein within endothelial cells, c-Abl kinase, would respond to a barrier-altering chemical called thrombin.

They found that this protein is an important element in the rearrangement of the cell’s structure, which means it may be an important potential target for treatment of pulmonary barrier disorders.

An image from the Scientific Reports publication

An image from the Scientific Reports publication