The researchers have published their findings in the journal Nature, showing for the first time that the body’s lymphatic system – which is responsible for transporting white blood cells around the body to fight infection and injury – plays a vital role in helping the heart repair itself after a heart attack.
The study, funded by the British Heart Foundation, Wellcome Trust and Marie Curie Actions, showed in mice that patients’ hearts start growing more lymphatic vessels after a heart attack. The research team believes the body does this to transport immune cells away from the heart muscle after it becomes damaged, to reduce the level of inflammation and help the heart repair itself.
The researchers found that stimulating further growth of these vessels using a protein called VEGF-C amplified this healing process, reduced the damage caused by a heart attack and helped significantly improve the heart’s ability to pump blood around the body (see image).
The protein VEGF-C has already been studied in animals as a treatment for lymphoma – a type of cancer found in the lymphatic system.
The findings also challenge a 100-year-old debate surrounding the origin of lymphatic vessels. Previous research, dating back to 1902, suggested all lymphatic vessels sprout from existing veins, whereas the researchers have now revealed a new source. They discovered that specialist cells, which we know are essential for the growth of early blood vessels in the developing embryo, also contribute to new lymphatic vessels in the heart.
Dr Linda Klotz, lead author of the research at the UCL Institute of Child Health, said:
“These findings are an exciting new step in regenerative medicine and unlock the potential for us to help organs to heal themselves following a traumatic event like a heart attack.
“Our greater understanding of the way lymphatic vessels develop from multiple origins in a growing embryo will also have important implications for creating targeted therapies and for future lymphatic studies.”
For more information about the study, please contact Caroline Butcher in the GOSH press office on 020 7239 3178 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to Editors
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