José Antonio Diaz, M.D., a research investigator in the Department of Surgery Section of Vascular Surgery, has been studying the mechanisms of Deep Vein Thrombosis, or DVT, for more than five years at the University of Michigan. Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Diaz moved to the U.S. and in 2006 did a two-year fellowship in Vascular Biology at the U-M, eventually becoming part of the research faculty in the Conrad Jobst Vascular Research Laboratories (CJVRL). The CJVRL are state-of-the-art research facilities occupying 4,900 square feet in the North Campus Research Complex. The major topics of research at CJVRL include inflammation, venous thrombosis, vascular inflammation, thrombus resolution, abdominal aneurysms and medical device testing.
Some of Diaz’s early accomplishments include developing a mouse model for investigating DVT, which became one of the most commonly used models in the field. Over the past five years, he has also furthered the understanding of the role galectins play in DVT.
Galectins are a family of carbohydrate-binding proteins that are involved in a variety of biological functions, including cell activation and inflammation. Diaz’s Lab discovered that one of the molecules in that protein family, galectin-3, or gal3, participates in DVT. He published the first study confirming the location of that molecule, and its role in promoting DVT, in March 2015.
Galectins are well-known players in cancer progression and metastasis, and patients with cancer have a high risk of developing DVT. Diaz now wants to focus his research on better understanding the link between the two diseases and how it might be related to the co-occurring molecule.
“We know that patients with cancer – approximately 30 percent of patients with cancer – have a high risk of developing DVT,” Diaz says. “We know that there is a relationship between these two diseases, but we hope we can find out why these two diseases are linked. Our main hypotheses are focused around this and other molecules that have been described in both diseases. Uncovering mechanisms behind the link could provide not only new insights but also potential therapeutic targets for decreasing metastasis and thrombotic events.”
Diaz has familiarized himself with cancer biology and formed a strong interdisciplinary team that is committed to the galectin-link hypotheses. The team has developed a new model to combine DVT and cancer in the same setting and, using this new tool, are getting very exciting preliminary data that they hope will secure their research with NIH funds.
“I hope we are on the right path,” Diaz says. “I’m doing research because I want to help people. Cancer patients are really sick, but if you have DVT in that context, the mobility and mortality increase. I really hope to help those patients by finding mechanisms that could be new targets [for treatment]. I’m dedicating my days to this cause.”