As good as it gets

Tuesday 15 July 2014
The PhD student Yu Zhang from the Department of Natural Sciences completed his doctoral thesis and final defense at Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf on 10 July 2014 with a mark of 1.0 (magna cum laude).
Zhang Yu with World Cup doctoral cap

Yu has been supervised by Prof. Dr. Edda Tobiasch from the Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University of Applied Sciences in the lab and together with Prof. Dr. Matthias Kassack at the University of Düsseldorf. In addition, Yu Zhang was enrolled in the Graduate Institute of the HBRS and also member of the Spacelife Graduate School of the German Aerospace Center (DLR), Cologne.

The unusual doctoral cap awarded to him by his fellow students expresses their high esteem and friendship.

On Friday 18 July, the University of Düsseldorf holds a graduation ceremony for all doctoral students, in which Yu Zhang will partake.

In his PhD thesis with the title "Establishment of a Blood Vessel Cell Culture Model, Testing its Application in Microgravity and Drug Research and Examination of the Underlying Signaling Pathways”, the young scientist demonstrated that purinergic signaling which reacts to extracellular nucleotides such as ATP can influence stem cell differentiation towards endothelial and smooth muscle cells. This signaling is also altered in individually cultured endothelial and smooth muscle cells or their co-culture under microgravity conditions. These results improve the understanding of the molecular mechanism of stem cell differentiation which will help to find new target drug molecules improving stem cell differentiation for future tissue engineering. In addition these findings increase the knowledge of blood vessel cells responding to changes in gravity and thus open the possibility to screen for drugs improving cardiovascular functions in astronauts during space missions.

Background information

During long-term space missions astronauts are suffering from deconditioning of the cardiovascular system due to exposure to a microgravity environment. Endothelial and smooth muscle cells are important players in regulating various vascular functions. Therefore the current research focuses on 1) the usage of stem cell to generate endothelial and smooth muscle cells for cardiovascular approaches in regenerative medicine for future patient treatment on earth and 2) the identification of the underlying molecular mechanisms in endothelial and smooth muscle cells responding to microgravity for the development of specific therapies and effective countermeasures for future astronaut treatment.