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Dr Vanessa Ho

Reader in Pharmacology and Inclusive Practice

Dr Ho is the Dean for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at St George's. She provides strategic oversight for a wide range of EDI activities, groups, and networks across the University. She also leads the Athena SWAN initiative (Institutional Silver Award) and Race Equality Review.

Dr Ho’s research focuses on pharmacology (how drugs work) and physiology (how biological systems work). Since joining St George’s in 2008, she has established a laboratory specialising in research on vascular control and cannabinoid signalling. Her education portfolio includes curriculum development, student pastoral care, and quality assurance. More recently, she has expanded her research into equality and the law.

Dr Ho is a Fellow of the British Pharmacological Society. She is the Chair of the International Cannabinoid Research Society’s Equality Diversity and inclusion Committee and a member of the Advance HE Equality Diversity and inclusion Strategic Advisory Group. She was on the international assessment panel for the Senior Academic Leadership Initiative in Ireland.

Dr Ho’s scientific research focuses on pharmacology (how drugs work) and physiology (how biological systems work). Since joining St George’s in 2008, she has established a laboratory specialising in research on vascular control and cannabinoid signalling.

Prior to this, Dr Ho obtained a MA in Natural Sciences (Pharmacology) and a PhD in vascular pharmacology (with Dr Robin Hiley) from the University of Cambridge. Her PhD study demonstrated the diverse vascular actions of endocannabinoids, which are 'cannabis-like' chemicals produced by the body, and hinted at a novel signalling target in blood vessels. 

Dr Ho became a postdoctoral fellow with Professor Cecilia Hillard at the Medical College of Wisconsin, USA. In the renowned neuroscience laboratory there, which specialises in endocannabinoid signalling and metabolism, she examined the functional relevance of endocannabinoids in small blood vessels of the brain. This included the coupling between neuronal activity and local cerebral blood flow. During this period, Dr Ho’s research also expanded to endocannabinoid signalling in anxiety and depression.

Following this work, Dr Ho was awarded the prestigious Anne McLaren Fellowship (University of Nottingham). Working with Professor Michael Randall and Professor Sheila Gardiner, she initiated an independent project on cardiovascular regulation by endocannabinoids, and began to explore the potential changes in endocannabinoid signalling in hypertension.  

In 2021, Dr Ho obtained a MA in Law from the University of Law.

Dr Ho is an associate member of the Vascular Biology Research Centre in the Molecular and Clinical Sciences Research Institute.

Her scientific research concentrates on the control of vascular tone – how blood vessels contract and relax – which in turn determines tissue blood flow and blood pressure. She is particularly interested in vascular regulation by a group of lipids called endocannabinoids.

Endocannabinoids are are important regulators of various body functions in humans and other mammals. For instance, endocannabinoids relax blood vessels (and improve blood flow) via multiple signalling pathways involving the endothelium, vascular smooth muscle and perivascular nerves.

By characterising the cardiovascular responses to endocannabinoids and the underlying cell signalling mechanisms, Dr Ho aims to define the role of endocannabinoids in the circulation under both healthy and diseased conditions and thereby contribute to the development of novel therapeutic targets.

More specifically, research projects led by Dr Ho have focused on the following:

  1. The role of endocannabinoid metabolism in the circulation, including the evaluation of pharmacological inhibitors of endocannabinoid hydrolases.
  2. Mechanisms of action of endocannabinoids, including the involvement of orphan G-protein-coupled receptors, K+ channels and Ca2+ channels.
  3. Changes in the endocannabinoid system with vascular ageing and hypertension.

Additional research projects include identification and development of ion channel modulators as therapeutic agents for multiple sclerosis and other neurological disorders.

Dr Ho is a member of the Institute of Medical and Biomedical Education.

Her teaching responsibilities span all years of the BSc and MSci Biomedical Science degrees. They include being a small group tutor, lecturer, demonstrator and organiser of practicals, leader of taught modules, personal tutor, and examiner. She also provides lectures for other undergraduate students (Medicine MBBS and BSc Healthcare Science) and postgraduate students (MRes). She supervises research projects at undergraduate (BSc and iBSc) and postgraduate levels (MRes and PhD).

Dr Ho has held several organisational roles for Biomedical Science degrees. Currently, she is the co-organiser for the module "Biomedical Research Techniques for Drug Development".

She is an external examiner for several UK universities.

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