Fostering informed decision-making

By Maura Sullivan Hill

Understanding the mechanism of a disease can be the key to finding the right course of treatment. That’s what drives researchers like Patrick Osei-Owusu (PhD ’06), an assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology & Physiology at Drexel University College of Medicine. “The care that you provide people might be different, for example, if a patient has hypertension due to salt intake, or if a patient has hypertension due to genes that developed it,” he said.

Osei-Owusu is dedicated to understanding the genetic causes of both cardiovascular and renal diseases, focusing on the role of G-proteins, which transmit signals from stimuli outside a cell into a cell, and elastin, a protein found in skin and blood vessels that allows them to resume their shape after stretching or contracting.

“The overarching interest of my research is to gain a deeper understanding of the normal biology or physiology that maintains normal organ function in the cardiovascular and renal systems,” he said. “This will help us better understand how diseases occur and develop.”

In his research, Osei-Owusu uses mouse genetics to generate models of human diseases.

“We engineer them to remove or knock out certain proteins, which allows us to ask how these proteins are important, what role they play in normal cardiovascular and renal function, and how a lack of these proteins could contribute to diseases,” he said.

In his work on elastin, he’s found that in big blood vessels, like the aorta and the femoral and carotid artery, the presence of elastin helps them stretch to accommodate high pressure from the heart. When these vessels relax, they help propel blood down the circulatory system. A deficiency of elastin in these areas makes the vessel thicken and they cannot circulate the blood as efficiently,  he said, which is linked to AIDS-related hypertension and chronic kidney disease.

The more Osei-Owusu learns in his lab, the better patient care can become. His research findings will be used to improve health education, develop new drugs, and improve existing treatment regimens.