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IDRM PI appointed Associate Professor of Cellular and Integrative Physiology

Congratulations to BHF Ian Fleming Fellow Nicola Smart, who has been awarded an Associate Professorship at the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics in association with a Tutorial Fellowship at Christ Church College. Nicola is moving her research group focusing on the development and regeneration of the heart and coronary vasculature into the IDRM this year.

Nicola Smart Headshot - credit BHF.jpg
Image Credit: British Heart Foundation


Research in the Smart Lab has uncovered new therapeutic targets for vascular protection and cardiac regeneration by revealing new insights into how the cardiovascular system forms in the embryo. In one line of research, the lab demonstrated that developmental mechanisms of coronary vessel growth are partially recapitulated in the adult heart after injury. By identifying critical stimuli, such as Thymosin b4, that drive these processes, Prof Smart’s research has revealed the ability to recapture the “embryonic potential” within the adult heart for repair after a heart attack. Key findings can be found in the world’s leading science journal Nature, volumes 445 and 474.

Prof Smart and her team have also shown that the mechanisms used to promote the formation of stable, smooth muscle-lined vessels in the embryo crucially serve to protect throughout life against diseases, such as atherosclerosis and aortic aneurysm. This led Smart lab researchers to identify a novel regulatory pathway (Thymosin b4 - Filamin A - LRP1) controlling smooth muscle cell behaviour, which may in future be targeted to offer much-needed treatments for vascular disease.

Smooth Muscle Cell
Smooth Muscle Cell. Image Credit: Nicola Smart


Prof Smart’s work has been recognised by a number of prestigious awards, including the inaugural BHF Fellow of the Year Award (2011), the British Cardiovascular Society’s Michael Davies Early Career Award (2012), the named BHF Ian Fleming Fellowship (2012) and the British Atherosclerosis Society's John French Prize Lecture (2021).

The Smart Lab will continue to pursue two key aims under the new Associate Professorship. The first is to enhance the inadequate regenerative capacity of the mammalian heart, and the second is to promote vascular protection. To achieve both objectives, the lab will translate insights from embryonic development into the adult. Specifically, they will focus on the endocardium, as a primary contributor of coronary vasculature, and on the epicardium, which promotes vessel growth and myocardial formation in development and disease. In parallel, the lab will build on recent findings to elaborate the vasculoprotective mechanisms of Thymosin b4 and establish a solid basis for future clinical application.

On receipt of her appointment, Associate Professor Nicola Smart looks ahead to relocating her lab to the IDRM: “I look forward to closer interactions with colleagues who share my excitement for studying development and applying these insights for regenerative medicine. The expertise and facilities at the IDRM will create an ideal environment to promote scientific exchange, collegiality, and ground-breaking discoveries.”

Growth of coronary vessels during development
Growth of coronary vessels during development. Image Credit: Sonali Munshaw


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