June 27, 2022

Understanding the building blocks of blood clots will help researchers like Yan-Qing Ma, PhD, develop better treatments for patients.

 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 900,000 people could be affected by blood clots each year, with an estimated 60,000-100,000 Americans dying of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or pulmonary embolism (PE). Versiti Blood Research Institute Investigator Yan-Qing Ma, PhD, focuses his research on understanding the cellular and molecular basis of thrombosis with a goal of identifying safer and more specific therapeutic targets. 

How clots affect human health

Thrombosis is a pathological process of blood clot formation that blocks blood flow in arteries and veins and shortens blood supply to the affected area. This often causes serious complications for patients who develop a clot in the heart or if a clot forms elsewhere in the body and moves to a crucial part of the circulatory system, like the brain or lungs. Consequently, blood clots often act as an underlying cause of acute heart attack, ischemic stroke and venous thromboembolism and are a leading contributor to disease. “Anti-thrombotic therapy is a cornerstone for thrombosis, but bleeding remains the major side effect,” Dr. Ma said. “Therefore, identification of novel therapeutic targets is imperative for developing better treatments.”

Current research to understand clot formation

The formation of blood clots involves different types of blood cells and molecules. Interpreting the underlying cellular and molecular mechanisms for clot development is a key step to developing better treatments for patients. “The research in my lab focuses on understanding the regulatory role of inflammatory cells, especially neutrophils, in influencing clot formation, especially in deep veins,” Dr. Ma said.

Neutrophils are white blood cells that are the immune system’s first line of defense in the rapid removal of harmful stimuli, either sterile or infectious. However, uncontrolled activation of neutrophils is a common trigger for clot formation. “Our work concentrates on investigation of a key signaling molecule called kindlin-3, which plays an essential role in neutrophil activation,” Dr. Ma said. “We have made some exciting discoveries, including that kindlin-3 possesses both pro-thrombotic and anti-thrombotic features. Based on this, we set out to design and test a new anti-thrombotic strategy that uses the unique, anti-thrombotic feature of kindlin-3, which we believe will be more specific and safer by limiting the potential side effects of clots.”

Dr. Ma and his team are working to better understand the basic cellular and molecular mechanisms for thrombosis and are interested in taking what they have discovered in the lab to a clinical setting. “We hope that our findings can be further developed and eventually help patients with severe thrombotic problems, especially COVID-19 patients at high risk for clotting,” he said.

Blood health innovation at Versiti

Dr. Ma credits the Versiti Blood Research Institute Foundation with helping to propel his research and follow where it takes him. “The Foundation has greatly aided my research programs, from providing the startup funding to offering opportunities to explore new research directions,” he said.

“I believe that Versiti Blood Research Institute is one of the best places to conduct this kind of research,” he continued. “The BRI has cultivated a very supportive environment, especially for young investigators. When I first came here, I received tremendous support from the Young Investigator Mentorship Committee, led by Dr. Peter Newman, which helped launch my plan. And the BRI’s critical mass of internationally recognized experts provides great opportunities for collaboration and sets the foundation for innovative research discoveries.”

About the expert: Yan-Qing Ma, PhD, is an investigator at Versiti Blood Research Institute and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biochemistry at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

 
Thrombosis & Hemostasis
We study the properties of blood that cause it to clot. Our findings help to treat diseases that cause blood clots or excessive bleeding.
 
Versiti Blood Research Institute
Versiti Blood Research Institute investigators study blood disorders like hemophilia, blood cancers like leukemia, and other blood diseases.
 
Yan-Qing Ma, PhD
Dr. Ma is an investigator at Versiti Blood Research Institute who studies the signaling that modulates cell function and production.