Thomas Povsic
Principal Investigator
Adjunct Professor of Medicine
Member in the Duke Clinical Research Institute
Contact Information

Office: Sands Building Room 405, Durham, NC, 27710
Campus mail: DUMC Box 3126, Durham, NC, 27710
Phone: 919-681-5821
Fax: 919-681-9607


The main goals of our laboratory are:

  • Understanding the roles of progenitor cells in maintaining vascular integrity
  • Exploring the possible uses of progenitor cells as therapeutics in the treatment of atherosclerotic heart disease and myocardial infarction 

It is now appreciated that atherosclerosis is not simply a progressive disease of continual vascular damage, but represents a balance between chronic vascular injury accelerated by conventional risk factors and vascular repair mediated by endogenous progenitor cells (EPCs). Progenitor cells have been found both in the peripheral circulation and in the bone marrow.

Our laboratory has developed novel, more precise, and more reliable techniques for measurement of circulating EPCs in patients. Our goal is to determine the underlying mechanisms responsible for progenitor cell depletion and loss of progenitor cell function, which play a key role in the exhaustion of reparative capacity that precedes the development of overt cardiovascular disease.

To study this problem, we have begun to construct a large database of circulating progenitor cell counts in patients undergoing cardiac catheterization. Taking advantage of the Duke Cardiovascular Database, we will correlate findings about EPC numbers and function with clinical variables to gain a better understanding of the relationship between reparative capacity and clinical outcomes.

Other areas of focus include:

  • The role of EPC mobilization in recovery after coronary artery bypass surgery: By partnering with cardiovascular surgery and anesthesia, we have the opportunity to sample bone marrow at time of median sternotomy, allowing us to correlate bone marrow progenitor cell content to EPC numbers and peripheral cytokine levels. This allows us to assess the effect of chronic vascular injury on the body’s ability to mobilize reparative mechanisms at the time of injury and to investigate the mechanisms responsible for loss of EPCs in the elderly and those with advanced disease.
  • The role of progenitor cell depletion in the aging process: In collaboration with orthopaedic surgery, we are obtaining bone marrow specimens from patients undergoing elective orthopaedic procedures. We will use these samples to assess the role of age and vascular disease on bone marrow progenitor cell composition.
  • Exploring the molecular pathways responsible for impairment of EPC function using gene expression analysis: We seek to identify particular pathways that are responsible for the loss of reparative capacity that occurs in the presence of long exposure to cardiac risk factors. Augmentation of such reparative capacity via pharmaceutical intervention aimed at reestablishing progenitor cell numbers and function offers a promising therapeutic option to not only limit further vascular damage, but to regenerate the vasculature.
  • Investigating the use of cellular therapies to treat a variety of cardiovascular conditions: Myocardial infarction in large animal models is uniquely suited to studying intracoronary administration of cellular therapeutics.