Gary K. Owens, Ph.D is a Professor in the Departments of Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics and the Department of Medicine, Division of Cardiology. Dr. Owens also is the Director of the Robert M. Berne Cardiovascular Research Center and Director of the MD/PhD (NIH MST) Program.
Dr. Owens research is focused on the molecular regulation of differentiation of vascular smooth muscle cells (SMC) during development, and how transitions in the differentiated state of these cells, or so-called SMC phenotypic switching contribute to the pathogenesis of major human diseases including atherosclerosis, cancer, hypertension, and aneurysms. A major area of current focus is studying the role of epigenetic mechanisms (e.g. histone modifications and chromatin structure) and embryonic stem cell (ESC) [and induced pluripotential stem (iPS) cell] pluripotency gene networks in regulating transitions in SMC phenotype during development of atherosclerosis as well as in tissue repair and regeneration. Remarkably, using novel mouse model systems developed by his group, they have evidence showing that perivascular cells including SMC and pericytes represent a source of multi-potential MSC-like cells that play a key role in tissue regeneration and repair, and that phenotypic transitions of these cells are mediated via the ESC pluripotency genes Oct4 and Klf4. Another project in the lab is focused on identification of mechanisms that lead to abnormal maturation of tumor blood vessels (i.e. defective SMC/pericyte investment and differentiation), a process linked with high rates of tumor cell shedding and metastasis. Finally, he has a series of projects focused on investigating mechanisms that regulate the stability of advanced atherosclerotic plaques, a process of critical importance in determining if a plaque is likely to rupture and initiate a heart attack.
Robert M. Berne Cardiovascular Research Center
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