The Latest in Lymphedema

Lymphatic system
Map of Lymphatic System: Old (left) and New (right)
The lymphatic system is a crucial component of the immune system.  The immune system helps protect the body from viruses, foreign particles, and foreign bodies (referred to as antigens).  Bone marrow produces lymphocytes, the active portion of lymph nodes which destroy foreign organisms thereby protecting the body. Interstitial fluid is filtered by lymph nodes prior to returning to the heart through lymph trunks.

Until recently, many believed that the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) lacked lymphatic structures (and, by extension, the added immunity and protective mechanism enjoyed by the peripheral nervous system due to its connection to the lymphatic system).  However, recent research performed at the University of Virginia School of Medicine has revealed that the brain is directly associated with the immune system via lymphatic vessels which have somehow slipped under the radar until recently.  Apparently, the scientists who originally mapped the lymphatic system were unable to detect the vessels located within the brain’s meninges.  This discovery was made by Antoine Louveau, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow whose recent dissection will call for the re-writing of scientific textbooks (link to article’s abstract).

The implications of this groundbreaking research are manifold.  The presence of lymphatic vessels and its protective benefits in the central nervous system open a Pandora’s Box of possibility regarding future advances in treatment of neurological diseases.  Conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, autism, and multiple sclerosis, to name a few, may be treatable through mechanisms never previously dreamed possible due to lack of knowledge about anatomy and physiology.  The future of neuroimmunology is an open book, and we are yet to see where the research will take us.

As a Certified Lymphedema Therapist, I am eager to see where Louveau’s exciting research will lead, and I look forward to learning new techniques in order to best treat my patients.  I also look forward to purchasing the latest edition of the Lymphedema mapping poster, because the one hanging on my wall is outdated!  If you or someone you know may benefit from manual lymphatic drainage to treat lymphedema, please contact me at Revitalize Physical Therapy.  I look forward to the opportunity to help.