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Exploring links between endothelial cell function and metabolism

Sarah McGarrity’s research focuses on endothelial cells, which are important for blood pressure and clotting, and her findings might give us a better understanding and lead to treatments for conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetic vascular damage and acute vascular problems due to shock.

McGarrity, PhD, was one of the recipients of the Novo Nordisk Foundation’s postdoctoral fellowships 2019 for research abroad in the field of Endocrinology & Metabolism. McGarrity will receive DKK 3,992,447 over four years.

What does this grant mean to you and your research?

“This grant will provide me with the opportunity to continue to explore the links between endothelial cell function and metabolism. I will be able to work in a group that has expertise in vascular nitric oxide production and reactive oxygen species scavenging, and their links to vascular health. The knowledge I gain and the techniques that I learn will enable me to build on a project about endothelial metabolism that I have begun at the University of Iceland in collaboration with a clinical group at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen. Also working in a new research environment, particularly one as active and prestigious as Harvard Medical School, will allow me to explore a broad range of scientific ideas and how to plan, communicate and improve my research career. The final year of the grant will allow me to bring the techniques I learn at Harvard back to The University of Iceland, where I will also continue to grow the collaboration with Rigshospitalet.”

Where will you carry out your post-doc?

“For the first three years I will carry out research at Harvard Medical School, in the USA, under the supervision of William Oldham and Joseph Loscalzo. I will be able to learn from their expertise in vascular biology, particularly redox biology in the vasculature. Professor Loscalzo is a leader in the development of the application of systems biology to clinical problems in the form of network medicine. I will be able to expand the knowledge of vascular biology I have already gained at the University of Iceland. In my final year I will return to the University of Iceland in Reykjavík where I will continue to work in Óttar Rolfsson’s group as part of the Biomedical Centre and the Centre for Systems Biology there.”

What applications could your research have?

“My project is called “The effect of the endothelial glycoclayx on superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase and nitric oxide synthase activities during stimulation.” Endothelial cells line blood vessels and are important to control blood pressure and clotting. They are covered by a proteoglycan-rich layer, the endothelial glycocalyx, which is important to this control. This layer houses enzymes that produce nitric oxide (which controls blood pressure) and remove damaging reactive oxygen species (ROS). My research investigates the effects of various stimuli on the glycocalyx layer covering vascular endothelial cells and how this, in turn, affects the activities of enzymes that are housed in this layer. The enzymes are NO forming and ROS scavenging enzymes that are important to cardiovascular health, both in the long term and during acute conditions such as trauma. By better understanding how the glycocalyx and its enzymes are affected by inflammatory and other stimuli I hope that we will be able to better understand and eventually treat conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetic vascular damage and acute vascular problems due to shock.”

What is the best thing about being a scientist and about your area of research?

“I am fascinated by the process of investigation, of finding out about how things, endothelial cells in this case, work; how they break and how they affect other things. My job as a scientist enables me to pursue these investigations and to work with other people to apply any findings to create useful solutions to human health problems. As a scientist each day presents new challenges so my job is always interesting and varied.”

Do you have any advice to students out there wanting to pursue a career in science?

“Students who would like to pursue a research career should explore as wide a range of science as they can in order to find a research area that stimulates them. I have found that my research career has opened up a range of life experiences to me but also presents challenges that can sometimes be frustrating; being interested in my work has made the challenges worthwhile.”