Kunzhe Dong has identified and explored an important RNA molecule, called CARMN, that is abundant in healthy smooth muscle cells.
Muscle cells form the lining of blood vessels; when healthy, they ensure the vessels are strong and flexible. But low levels of the molecule CARMN, Dong discovered, could lead to the muscle cells becoming unhealthy, likely increasing the risk of blocked or bulging blood vessels.
Part of Dong’s expertise centers on discovering important molecules associated with blood vessel disease by digging into large-scale sequencing datasets — and developing new ways to fight the disease. CARMN is one of those molecules, and to identify it in healthy people, Dong and colleagues used bioinformatics to analyze multi-dimensional datasets of RNA sequencing.
In experiments on mice, Dong also found that when CARMN was removed from smooth muscle cells, arteries became damaged and susceptible to injury. The CARMN molecule could also hold the key to treating vascular wall disease with very limited side effects. The molecule is mostly limited to healthy smooth muscle cells, so altering the levels of it would not have side effects on other cells.
Dong’s work was published in a 2021 paper, and he continues to explore other important molecules that control the function of smooth muscle cells and immune cells. He also investigates cell-to-cell interactions between smooth muscle cells and immune cells in vascular diseases.