Lymph vessel researchers are on a quest to fight public health diseases

A European-American research network coordinated by Academy Professor Kari Alitalo is investigating the role of lymph vessels in the development of obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. The project has received funding worth six million US dollars from a French foundation.

Lymph vessel researchers are on a quest to fight public health diseases

David Tancredi, Scientific Director of LeDucq Foundation (top left), Academy Professor Kari Alitalo, physician scientist Miina Öhman and Harri Nurmi who is carrying out his doctoral studies under Öhman’s supervision.

The significance of lymph vessels in the development of diseases has only been discovered in recent years; previously it was thought that their role was mainly to act as a drainage system that maintained tissue fluid balance. It is now known that the lymph vessels play a significant role in coordinating the immune and inflammation responses, and that they have a crucial task in absorbing ingested fats from the intestines.

– New research has reinforced the view that dysfunctional lymph vessels may be linked with obesity and atherosclerosis, says researcher Miina Öhman.

Dysfunction of lymphatic vessels causes inflammation and accumulation of fat cells in tissue. It has been shown in mouse models that the dysfunction of lymph vessels leads to adult obesity, fatty liver and insulin resistance. Moreover, a link between abnormal growth of lymph vessels and cardiovascular diseases has been discovered in human patients.

Öhman has studied the link between fat tissue and cardiovascular diseases for ten years in the United States; she is now continuing that work as part of the Lymph vessels in obesity and cardiovascular disease research network, coordinated by Academy Professor Kari Alitalo.

Launched at the beginning of 2012, the five year project involves the leading blood and lymph vessel specialists in Europe and the United States investigating the significance of lymph vessels in the development of obesity, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

– The obesity epidemic and the associated diseases that it has brought along are a growing global health problem. The long-term effects of current treatments are not sufficient, so we need more effective means to combat the problem, says Alitalo.

The funding for the research network comes from the French LeDucq Foundation; the foundation supports research co-operation between Europe and North America and accepted the project under its Transatlantic Networks of Excellence programme, awarding funding of USD 6 million.

The saturated fatsare absorbed from the intestine to the lymph vessels and lymph nodes in the mesentery, where they can set off an inflammation and activate inflammatory cells. Inflammatory cells and saturated fats travel from lymph vessels and nodes to circulation and may accumulate on the walls of arteries, leading to atherosclerosis.

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Text: Päivi Lehtinen
Photo: Ari Aalto
Illustration: Helena Schmidt
18.1.2012
Translation: AAC Global
University of Helsinki, digital communications


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