Welcome to the home of Vascular Research at Aston University.

Our team are dedicated to conducting high-quality research in the field of vascular medicine, with extensive experience in angiogenesis and vascular protection. We hope that our current and future research will make a lasting contribution to theoretical and clinical approaches to vascular disorders.

Here you can find information about our research team and the work they do, plus links to our published articles and media coverage of our findings. Also check out the ‘Home’ page for updates about our latest research findings and recent developments in vascular science.

Follow us on Twitter @VascularAston

Aston University

Aston University Campus

Aston University is a long established research-led institution known for its world-class teaching quality and strong links to industry, government and commerce. It is based in the heart of Birmingham, home to over 65,000 students and one of Europe’s liveliest and most welcoming cities. With a burgeoning reputation for producing high-quality research and an ambitious, forward-thinking outlook, Aston is an institution with great future prospects.

“Teaching and research excellence remain focused on a select portfolio of subjects aligned to the needs of the 21st Century and which address priority areas for business and society locally, nationally and internationally. The University has continued to develop its excellent national reputation and is seeking to enhance its international standing”

Widening Participation

In addition to maintaining a strong focus on high-quality research work, Aston is committed to widening participation in higher education. The University seeks to ensure that it is truly representative of the community it serves and that students from all backgrounds are given the opportunity to receive a first-class education.

Grauates - Widening Participation

“Aston’s policy has been to expand and widen participation without compromising academic standards. The University’s impressive track record in widening participation is one of which we are extremely proud. In 2007/08, 57% of new entrants were from ethnic minorities, 91.4% were from state schools/colleges, 11.3% were from low participation neighbourhoods, and 2.3% were in receipt of Disabled Students Allowance. Aston’s Widening Participation Strategy has been to provide support to students throughout the student life cycle, from aspiration raising in primary schools through to student graduation and employment”

At Aston we are constantly striving to approach social inequalities in new and innovative ways, providing access to education for students from hard-to-reach areas with the aim of improving routes into employment and benefiting local communities. We feel passionately about social deprivation and are keen to address health inequalities within society; we believe that one of the ways in which we can help to improve the quality of life experienced by residents of low-income areas is to facilitate the training of medical professionals from these localities.

In the future we hope to help more individuals from low-income backgrounds receive the best possible training, making higher education and the medical profession more accessible and socially representative. In doing so we hope to improve social mobility prospects and reduce the effects of social deprivation by improving local healthcare. 

Vascular Research at Aston

Aston University Main Building

The Vascular Research team is relatively new to the University; however it has already made a significant contribution to Aston’s research output. Our research interests are primarily focused on the vascular basis of diseases, particularly in the areas of Angiogenesis and Vascular Protection.

We are committed to translational research (“from bench to bedside”) with a view to developing our discoveries from invention through to practical application, maintaining a clear focus on helping people affected by the conditions we study. Through our research we hope to understand the pathogenesis of vascular diseases such as preeclampsia and arthrosclerosis and develop therapeutic interventions based on our findings.

The team is led by Asif Ahmed, Professor of Vascular Biology and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Health. Professor Ahmed has an international reputation in angiogenesis and vascular protection research; his laboratory was amongst the first laboratories to signal the importance of vascular growth factors in pregnancy, and pioneered the concept of angiogenic imbalance theory in preeclampsia in the mid 1990s.

In 2000, Ahmed discovered that the enzyme placental heme oxygenase (HO) protects the human placenta against injury (Mol Med. 6:391-409, 2000) and went on to identify carbon monoxide (CO), the gaseous product of HO, as an inhibitor of anti-angiogenic proteins (soluble Flt-1 and soluble endoglin) (Circulation 115:1789-97, 2007Natural Protein Offers New Therapeutic Potential for Pre-Eclampsia). Soluble Flt-1, the natural anti-VEGF factor in circulation, has been increasingly recognized as a major factor responsible for the clinical signs of preeclampsia. In 2004 Ahmed & Ahmad identified soluble Flt-1 as the single most important molecule responsible for angiogenic imbalance in preeclampsia, by demonstrating that the removal of sFlt-1 from preeclamptic samples restored angiogenic balance (Circ Res 95:884-91,2004), which was confirmed by others in vivo.

The discovery that increasing HO activity could provide protection against preeclampsia formed the basis for the world’s first randomized controlled clinical trial on the use of statins in pregnancy, the StAmP (Statins to Ameliorate early onset Preeclampsia) Trial (see: Heart disease drugs could treat pregnant womenHeart drugs used in pre-eclampsia pregnancy trial). This trial is currently ongoing at Aston University, and based on our discoveries two additional international clinical trials have been initiated (details here and here).

Recently the Aston Vascular Research team has identified another diatomic molecule, hydrogen sulfide (H2S), as offering the potential to treat both preeclampsia and fetal growth restriction in pregnancy. The new findings have been published in Circulation. This work was recently highlighted as being a “groundbreaking study” by Circulation and within the mainstream media (Breakthrough in fight against pre-eclampsia). This is the first time two naturally-occurring small gaseous molecules (CO and H2S) have been shown to prevent the release of the culprit proteins (sFlt-1 and sEng) which are elevated in preeclampsia. More importantly, in this new work we have shown that it is possible to restore fetal growth and fix the vascular abnormalities (angiogenesis) in placenta by restoring hydrogen sulfide.

The group will continue to evaluate the effects of anti-angiogenic growth factors that may contribute to vascular based disorders, in particular preeclampsia, and  develop therapeutic targets for these conditions. It is hoped that before the end of the decade Aston’s team may have a treatment for preeclampsia.

The Aston Vascular Team

Professor Ahmed PhotoProf Asif Ahmed, Professor of Vascular Biology

Shakil Profile PhotoDr Shakil Ahmad, Senior Research Fellow

Keqing Profile Photo FinalDr Keqing Wang, Aston Academic Research Fellow

Meng Cai ProfileDr Meng Cai, Research Fellow