The molecule interleukin-7 (IL-7) is an important immune messenger protein which ensures that a sufficient number of T cells are present in our body for immune defence. Researchers from ETH Zurich have now demonstrated that IL-7 has another important function: it enhances the drainage function of lymphatic vessels, which collect fluid that has leaked out of blood vessels into the body tissue and return it to the bloodstream. In the future, this finding could become useful for lymphedema patients, whose lymphatic drainage system does not work properly, resulting in fluid accumulation and tissue swelling.
The predisposition to develop lymphedema may, on one hand, be hereditary. On the other hand, lymphedema often occurs in the aftermath of a tumour surgery. When primary tumours are surgically excised, tumour-draining lymph nodes are often removed as well, as they may contain tumour cell metastases. In the course of such surgical interventions, the lymphatic tissue is damaged. As a result, tissue fluid can often no longer be drained properly, leading to the occurrence of lymphedema in 20 to 30 per cent of patients.
No drug treatment yet
Currently, the only treatment options for lymphedema patients are wearing compression garments and undergoing manual lymph drainage by a medical massage therapist. "In IL-7, we have discovered a molecule and a mechanism for enhancing lymphatic drainage which could potentially be useful for lymphedema therapy," says the head of the study Cornelia Halin, Assistant Professor of Drug Discovery Technologies.
In their study, the researchers found that IL-7 is produced by the so-called endothelial cells, which form the lymphatic vessel wall. These cells also express the receptors that specifically recognise IL-7 based on the lock-and-key principle. "Although we have not formally proven it so far, we assume that the lymphatic endothelial cells produce the messenger substance so that it can affect
|Contact: Cornelia Halin|