Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Final Report Summary - VESSEL (Vascular Endothelial interactionS and SpEciaLization)

1. BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES
The Marie Curie Actions Initial Training Network: Vascular Endothelial interactionS and SpEciaLization (VESSEL) consortium included 7 leading European laboratories and 2 private sector partners interested in vascular biology (http://vesselfp7.com/project-partners/). A common commitment of our laboratories is to contribute to developing treatments for cardiac ischemia, stroke, lymphedema, diabetes, age-related macular degeneration and cancer. A major objective of the consortium was to provide a state-of-the-art multidisciplinary training programme for a new generation of talented young researchers to prepare them for leading roles in vascular biology research and drug discovery in European academia, industry and health care systems. Overall objectives were (1) to train fellows to the highest level of professional standards required in modern, highly socially integrated, translational science; and (2) to use cutting-edge technologies to study vessel development, their regional specialization and biology in normal and pathological conditions, their roles in tissue patterning, metabolism, hematopoiesis, homeostasis, regeneration and establishment of biological barriers. A highly integrated approach and partners’ diverse expertise, as well as innovative technologies developed by industrial partners (including optophysics, chemical engineering and nanotechnology), strengthened the programme and enhanced the multi-disciplinarity of the network.

2. TRAINING PROGRAMME
The VESSEL training programme is an integrated specialised curriculum for vascular biologists. A total of 19 fellows (14 ESRs, 5 ERs) participated during the 4 years of the project. Each fellow was assigned an individual research project and all ESRs were enrolled in a PhD programme at their host institution. In addition to fellows’ research projects and courses offered by local (PhD or career development) training programmes, the VESSEL consortium provided network-wide training to the cohort of fellows in the form of scientific workshops (7 in total), tailored complementary skills workshops (4 courses), online lecture series (8 lectures, plus relevant guidance documents), and SME site visits which included hands-on training. Close interaction between academic and industrial sectors was an important aspect and fellows had opportunities for exposure to both sectors.
Together with their supervisors, fellows each devised a propitious individual career development plan, designed to tailor the training according to their specific interests. Fellows were encouraged to suggest training topics and to build strong track records through participation in key deliverables such as presenting data at international conferences, dissemination, publishing, secondments, collaborations and outreach to a range of audiences (full list of events: http://vesselfp7.com/).
Secondments: Complementarity of projects and partners’ expertise ensured collaborations and were the basis for integration of individual projects in a coherent research and training programme. Each fellow undertook secondments to one or more partner laboratories to learn specialist techniques to benefit their projects. These ensured direct knowledge/tech transfer between labs, developed key collaborations and strengthened long-term scientific links. All partners use highly sophisticated, specialized models, tools and techniques for biological analysis. Sharing these allowed the consortium to obtain much deeper insight into all the topics under investigation.
Scientific workshops organised by partners included lectures by leading international experts in the field of vascular biology and related topics. These provided fellows with specialist scientific training and the associated networking events were instrumental in identifying opportunities for collaborations. Fellows also organised an inspirational speaker to talk to them about their experience of becoming a young principle investigator.
Interaction with private sector: close collaborations between academic and industrial partners strengthened the research and training programme. Exposure to commercialisation processes was achieved through site visits to SME partners (LaVisionBiotec, Nanologica) which included lectures and practical training. The online lecture series organised for fellows focussed on relevant industrial topics such as: light sheet microscopy technologies (LaVision Biotec); intellectual property, patenting and commercialising research (Nanologica), fluorescent dye technologies (Luminartis GmbH), GMP and career opportunities in industry.
Our specially designed complementary skills training included topics such as project and time management, problem solving, team work, leadership and assertiveness, collaborative research projects, networking, communication, career action planning, applying for research funding, commercialisation topics, intellectual property, business development and entrepreneurship. Our course “Sustaining Networks”, organised in Edinburgh (Sep, 2015), was tailored for Vessel fellows in association with the Institute for Academic Development, who used the innovative format and content as a template for other ITN/consortium-specific courses. It included discussions on “how to market the ITN experience”, a site visit and talks by local enterprise Roslin Cells, and networking event and talks at Edinburgh Business School’s Entrepreneurs Club.
Outreach: Fellows participated in public engagement events to a variety of audiences to enhance public understanding of science and our research. Events included public lectures, participation in Science Festivals, Open Days at local host institutions and school events. During each annual meeting VESSEL partners presented 2 one-hour public lectures. Fellows participated in approximately 27 different outreach events, including the notable celebration of the 20th anniversary of the birth of Dolly the Sheep, organised by University of Edinburgh. This public event featured talks from Prof Sir Ian Wilmut, Nobel Prize Laureate Prof Shinya Yamanaka (Kyoto University) and Prof Angelika Schnieke (Technical University, Munich) and was followed by a panel Q&A with the audience. VESSEL fellows participated in public activities and displays before and after the lectures.
Dissemination: During the course of this project fellows presented their work at many national and international conferences, including Cold Spring Harbour Conference on Blood Brain Barrier, EMBL Congress on Cardiovascular Biology, the Gordon Research Conference, 4th Helmholtz Nature Medicine Diabetes Conference, ISSCR Annual Meeting and others.

3. SCIENTIFIC RESULTS
All fellows achieved excellent results in their individual research projects and most deliverables were completed on schedule. Fellows presented their scientific progress at annual consortium meetings and demonstrated a very high level of training and quality of research.
Publications: Fellows contributed to 16 publications, including in top journals Nature Communications, Science Translational Medicine, Journal of Clinical Investigation, EMBO J. More articles have been submitted and currently are under revision (full publication list is available at http://vesselfp7.com). In 2015, one ESR was awarded Young investigators award (1st place) by Finnish Cardiac Society for a publication on myocardial hypertrophy. ESR in Lausanne co-authored 6 articles, of which 2 were marked as best by different publishers in 2016: one ranked "Exceptional" by F1000; another was awarded Pfizer Biomedical Research Prize. As a result of collaboration between partners, 17 additional articles in top journals: Nature Cell Biology, Cancer Discovery and others, acknowledged FP7 support (PITN-GA-2012-317250-VESSEL).
Our scientific results have contributed to better understanding of several important topics in the field: 1) Embryonic development of vasculature and blood; 2) Organ-specific, local specialization of the vascular network, particularly the lymphatic system, adipose tissue, blood brain barrier and lung vasculature; 3) Growth factor signaling systems in (lymph) angiogenesis; 4) Transcription factors in the programming and differentiation of vascular cells; 5) Morphology and functions of the vascular networks in pathological conditions; 6) enhanced imaging reagents and high resolution imaging platforms for vascular biology studies and 7) Nanosystem for controlled delivery of biologically active molecules in live organisms. A deeper understanding in these areas and the identification of novel therapeutic targets opens up significant opportunities in regenerative medicine and in the development of new treatments for cancers and other pathological conditions such as blood disorders, lymphedema, cardiovascular disease, stroke and neurodegenerative diseases. The sophisticated transgenic reporter systems generated and cutting-edge methodologies will continue to advance research in these areas.

4. MANAGEMENT
A management structure was established to coordinate and oversee implementation of the project. This included a management board, supervisory board, advisory committee and working sub-groups for training, outreach, dissemination and intellectual property aspects. Progress of fellows in their individual research projects and their participation in training and deliverables was closely monitored throughout. All aspects of the consortium and deliverables were discussed at annual meetings and regular general assemblies (every 3 months) via teleconferencing. Fellow representatives participated in management meetings. A public website was created (http://vesselfp7.com/) and used to advertise network training events, activities and publications.

5. IMPACT
5.1. Impact at the level of individual researchers. Three ERs finished their contracts with VESSEL and successfully found new jobs. Most ESRs plan to finish their PhDs within a few months of the end of the project. Fellows received training in excellent laboratories with all the required state-of-the-art technologies. Strong network links, close mentoring and development of individual career development plans helped tailor the training experience to suit each fellows’ interests. They highly valued the opportunities within this consortium and the continued support of their mentors and the network as they progress to the next steps of their careers.
All fellows achieved excellent results in their individual research projects and many have already contributed to high impact publications as a result of the network’s collaborations. Thus, fellows have been able to build strong track records for excellent science, as well as develop broader skills through participation in the consortium’s outreach, dissemination and collaborative activities.
Ultimately, this training programme has delivered talented excellent young researchers with demonstrable and broad transferable skills sets, direct practical experience of both academic and industrial sectors, expertise in specialist and cutting-edge technologies, and key network links that would prove valuable for academic, industrial and public sector employers. These vascular biologists are now well-equipped to become future leaders and influencers in the field.
5.2. Enhancing scientific knowledge of general public. The consortium participated in many outreach events for a range of public audiences, aimed at promoting public understanding of science and our research. Enhancing scientific knowledge of public audiences and stakeholders is an important socio-economical goal that will have an impact on industrialization in this area and therefore, on creating new jobs. Biomedical research involving animals also has associated ethical issues and clarification of research goals and outputs often helps to reduce prejudice and promotes constructive dialogue between researchers, public, patient groups, stakeholders and policy makers.
5.3. Impact on private sector. During the 4-year period, all fellows were exposed to the industrial environment and were able to assess their interest in this area. VESSEL partners are particularly interested in maintaining long-term collaborative links across academic-industrial sectors. Further technological advances by the industrial partners will continue to play an important role in the research after the end of the project. Through their collaborations with academic partners, our industrial partners have been able to access relevant biological samples, transgenic models and functional assays, which have been used to test and advance their technologies. These outcomes were the direct result of participation in the consortium and the continuation of academic-industrial collaborations will be mutually beneficial in the future.
5.4. Stability of long-term collaborations: plan for continuation. Most of the partner labs are involved in active collaborations that are still ongoing, thus representing a natural continuation of the research goals and strong network links will be easily maintained. All partners work in complementary areas and intend to establish further long term collaborations to pursue challenging goals beyond the duration of the project. Plans for continuation of the project were discussed during the final consortium meeting (Edinburgh, Dec 2016). Many of these collaborative opportunities were identified as a direct result of participation within this consortium, particularly between academic and industrial partners.
As a group, the fellow cohort has maintained close links throughout the course of this project and they have also kept in touch using social media groups and LinkedIn. Fellows have forged productive collaborations, good working relationships and friendships during this time, which they intend to maintain in future. Importantly, ESRs/ERs from each group became familiarized with the environments and projects in other laboratories. This and their multi-facetted training will make them excellent candidates for recruitment to another partner’s laboratory and to laboratories outside this consortium. This will ensure the continuation of collaborative links between VESSEL partners and involvement of non-VESSEL groups in future collaborative studies.
5.5. Expected contribution to the EU community. Bringing together many sub-disciplines of the vascular biology field and meaningful interactions across sectors has helped generate new hypotheses on particular scientific and medical problems and facilitated the initiation of new research initiatives with novel approaches. The work of the VESSEL consortium has significantly contributed to current understanding of fundamental processes controlling blood and vessel morphogenesis. This research will underpin the development of improved and cost effective treatments for a range of pathological vascular conditions. While the aim of VESSEL is not to create new therapies, the knowledge generated will aid identification of new potential therapeutic targets and improved drug delivery. The impact on the EU community is therefore twofold: producing a new generation of excellent researchers that will be future leaders in the field, and establishment of a strong long-term network with active collaborations between top laboratories across Europe. The impact of the VESSEL consortium on the field of vascular biology is already evident from the high caliber of scientific publications generated during this project. The significant potential of the research results and ongoing collaborations will ensure that VESSEL remains a strong long-term instrument for the consolidation and advancement of medical studies and vascular research across Europe to compete on an international level.

6. CONTACTS
Prof. Medvinsky: A.Medvinsky@ed.ac.uk (Project Coordinator);
Dr Natalia Rybtsova: nrybtsov@staffmail.ed.ac.uk (Project Manager);
Dr Sabrina Gordon-Keylock: s.gordon-keylock@ed.ac.uk (Project Training Manager).
Website: http://vesselfp7.com

Reported by

THE UNIVERSITY OF EDINBURGH
United Kingdom

Subjects

Life Sciences
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