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Our Research

At the Vascular Health Unit, we are dedicated to identifying early markers of vascular impairment and maintaining vascular health, with a focus on cardiometabolic diseases, sex differences in cardiovascular diseases (CVD), women's health across the lifespan, and vascular disease prevention. Our team, led by Dr. Stella S. Daskalopoulou and in collaboration with distinguished researchers and clinicians around the globe, has published numerous research papers in peer-reviewed journals. Below are some of our recent publications:

Recent Publications

Circulating Sex-Specific Markers of Plaque Instability in Women and Men With Severe Carotid Atherosclerosis

Karina GasbarrinoHuaien ZhengStella S Daskalopoulou

Background: Sex-specific differences in plaque composition and instability underscore the need to explore circulating markers for better prediction of high-risk plaques. This cross-sectional study aims to (1) investigate differences in lipid, immune, and adipokine circulating profiles between men and women with stable versus unstable plaques and (2) identify circulating markers that can better classify men and women according to plaque instability.

Methods: Preoperative blood samples and plaque specimens were collected from consecutive men and women with carotid artery stenosis ≥50% and who underwent a carotid endarterectomy between 2009 and 2018. Adipokine, lipid, and immune profiling was conducted. Plaque stability was determined by gold-standard histological classifications. Statistical analyses, including χ2, ANOVA, Kruskal-Wallis, and logistic regression, assessed differences in plaque features and blood parameters between men and women with stable and unstable plaques.

Results: Of 470 recruited patients (aged 70.8±9.2 years), the final study analyses included 317 men and 143 women (aged 71.0±9.0 years). Men exhibited more unstable plaques (P<0.001), characterized by increased plaque hemorrhage, larger lipid core, and inflammation (P<0.001), along with less favorable circulating profiles. Antagonistic interactions between sex and white blood cell (WBC) counts, basophil-to-WBC ratio, and platelet counts influenced plaque instability. In men, low WBC counts, high monocyte-to-WBC ratio, low basophil-to-WBC ratio, and high LDL-C (low-density lipoprotein cholesterol) levels were associated with greater plaque instability (odds ratio, 0.827 [95% CI, 0.713-0.926], 1.158 [95% CI, 1.027-1.305], 0.495 [95% CI, 0.281-0.871], and 1.564 [95% CI, 1.001-2.443], respectively) and more unstable features (ie, inflammation, foam cells, and neovascularization). In women, a high basophil-to-WBC ratio was associated with greater plaque instability (3.142 [95% CI, 1.220-8.093]), hemorrhage, and thrombosis, while a high molecular weight-to-total adiponectin ratio was associated with decreased instability (0.014 [95% CI, 0.000-0.646]) and inflammation.

Conclusions: Our findings demonstrated sex-specific differences, with women displaying more stable plaque phenotypes and favorable circulating profiles compared with men. This proof-of-concept study was also designed as the key first step in exploring novel sex-specific associations between circulating lipid, immune, and adipokine profiles and carotid plaque instability.

Macrophage profiling in atherosclerosis: understanding the unstable plaque

Ioanna GianopoulosStella S Daskalopoulou

The development and rupture of atherosclerotic plaques is a major contributor to myocardial infarctions and ischemic strokes. The dynamic evolution of the plaque is largely attributed to monocyte/macrophage functions, which respond to various stimuli in the plaque microenvironment. To this end, macrophages play a central role in atherosclerotic lesions through the uptake of oxidized low-density lipoprotein that gets trapped in the artery wall, and the induction of an inflammatory response that can differentially affect the stability of the plaque in men and women. In this environment, macrophages can polarize towards pro-inflammatory M1 or anti-inflammatory M2 phenotypes, which represent the extremes of the polarization spectrum that include Mhem, M(Hb), Mox, and M4 populations. However, this traditional macrophage model paradigm has been redefined to include numerous immune and nonimmune cell clusters based on in-depth unbiased single-cell approaches. The goal of this review is to highlight (1) the phenotypic and functional properties of monocyte subsets in the circulation, and macrophage populations in atherosclerotic plaques, as well as their contribution towards stable or unstable phenotypes in men and women, and (2) single-cell RNA sequencing studies that have advanced our knowledge of immune, particularly macrophage signatures present in the atherosclerotic niche. We discuss the importance of performing high-dimensional approaches to facilitate the development of novel sex-specific immunotherapies that aim to reduce the risk of cardiovascular events.

Diabetes, antidiabetic medications and risk of dementia: A systematic umbrella review and meta-analysis

Alvin Kuate DefoVeselko BakulaAlessandro PisaturoChristopher LabosSimon S Wing, Stella S Daskalopoulou 

Aims: The objective of this umbrella review and meta-analysis was to evaluate the effect of diabetes on risk of dementia, as well as the mitigating effect of antidiabetic treatments.

Materials and methods: We conducted a systematic umbrella review on diabetes and its treatment, and a meta-analysis focusing on treatment. We searched MEDLINE/PubMed, Embase, PsycINFO, CINAHL and the Cochrane Library for systematic reviews and meta-analyses assessing the risk of cognitive decline/dementia in individuals with diabetes until 2 July 2023. We conducted random-effects meta-analyses to obtain risk ratios and 95% confidence intervals estimating the association of metformin, thiazolidinediones, pioglitazone, dipeptidyl peptidase-4 inhibitors, α-glucosidase inhibitors, meglitinides, insulin, sulphonylureas, glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists (GLP1RAs) and sodium-glucose cotransporter-2 inhibitors (SGLT2is) with risk of dementia from cohort/case-control studies. The subgroups analysed included country and world region. Risk of bias was assessed with the AMSTAR tool and Newcastle-Ottawa Scale.

Results: We included 100 reviews and 27 cohort/case-control studies (N = 3 046 661). Metformin, thiazolidinediones, pioglitazone, GLP1RAs and SGLT2is were associated with significant reduction in risk of dementia. When studies examining metformin were divided by country, the only significant effect was for the United States. Moreover, the effect of metformin was significant in Western but not Eastern populations. No significant effect was observed for dipeptidyl peptidase-4 inhibitors, α-glucosidase inhibitors, or insulin, while meglitinides and sulphonylureas were associated with increased risk.

Conclusions: Metformin, thiazolidinediones, pioglitazone, GLP1RAs and SGLT2is were associated with reduced risk of dementia. More longitudinal studies aimed at determining their relative benefit in different populations should be conducted.

PUBLICATION LIST

See here for a list of our publications throughout the years!

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