An international team of researchers, led by the University of South Australia’s Professor Natasha Harvey, has discovered that lymphatic vessels – once thought to only be responsible for returning excessive tissue fluid back to the bloodstream – are capable of producing red and white blood cells. This game-changing research could hold the key to unlocking a cure for the debilitating condition.
Lymphoedema is a blockage in the lymphatic system that leads to swelling in the arm or leg and is notoriously difficult to treat. But with this new discovery, the cause of the condition can now be traced back to cells that were incorrectly programmed during development.
Prof Harvey and her team traced defects in the lymphatic vessels to a specific site in DNA that controls the identity and development of lymphatic vessels. “If these genes aren’t switched on at the correct time and place, lymphatic vessels don’t form properly, causing lymph fluid to leak back into the tissues, leading to swelling (lymphedema).”
“In an unexpected discovery, we identified that the same gene that controls the development of lymphatic vessels also controls the production of blood cells,” Prof Harvey said.
This breakthrough, which has been published in the world-renowned journal Nature, has exciting implications for the medical field. The discovery that lymphatic vessels can produce blood cells could play a role in fighting infections and even some blood cancers.
The next step for the team will be to investigate what triggers the lymphatic vessels to produce different types of blood cells and when this occurs – during normal development as well as during disease.
This major leap forward in understanding the complex interplay between the cardiovascular and immune systems could unlock the cure to this debilitating condition.
Media release from the University of South Australia. Note: Content has been edited for style and length.