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Inflammation, Auto-immunity and the Lymphatic System

Posted Mar 06 2010 12:00am


"The biology of the lymphatic system is positioned at a unique locus where the working of the immune system, its pivotal role in defending against cancer and infectious diseases, and its potential role in the treatment of autoimmunity uniquely align themselves. Many diseases will benefit from the advancement of lymphatic research."
- Robert Burns, PhD, Director, Office of Technology Licensing
Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research

The well-being of every individual depends on the health of the lymphatic system. Just imagine what that can mean in fighting a broad array of diseases. With more awareness from the medical and scientific communities and individuals like you, we can help conquer lymphedema and related lymphatic disorders, cancer, AIDS, and other illnesses.

There are millions of people worldwide who currently suffer with a disorder or disease of the lymphatic system. There are also millions of others who are at risk for lymphatic malfunction such as individuals who have had surgery, injury, infection, or some other insult to their lymphatics. This list does not even include the hundreds of millions suffering from other diseases that would benefit from advances in lymphatic research and insight.

Functions of the Lymphatic System

Fluid and Protein Balance

As blood moves through the arteries and veins, 10% of the fluid filtered by the capillaries, along with vital proteins, becomes trapped in the tissues of the body. This loss of this fluid (approximately 1-2 liters/day) would rapidly become life threatening if the lymphatic system did not properly function. The lymphatic system collects this fluid and returns it to the circulatory system.

Immunity and Spread of Infection

The lymphatic system plays an integral role in the immune functions of the body. It is the first line of defense against disease. This network of vessels and nodes transports and filters lymph fluid containing antibodies and lymphocytes (good) and bacteria (bad). The body's first contact with these invaders signals the lymphatics, calling upon this system to orchestrate the way the infection-fighting cells prevent illness and diseases from invading microorganisms.


Lymph vessels in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract absorb fats from food. A malfunction of this part of the lymphatic system can result in serious malnutrition. The lymphatic system also impacts diseases such as excessive obesity caused by abnormal fat and carbohydrate metabolism.

Inflammation, Auto-immunity and the Lymphatic System

Inflammatory and auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosis (SLE), scleroderma, Wegener's granulomatosis, and others are impacted by the lymphatic system. All of these diseases are believed to be connected to an inflammatory process initiated by the body's immune response. The lymphatic system governs the body's immune system that normally makes the proteins, called antibodies, to protect the body against viruses, bacteria, and other foreign materials. These foreign materials are called antigens. In an autoimmune disorder such as lupus, or arthritis the immune system looses its ability to tell the difference between foreign substances (antigens) and its own cells and tissues. The immune system then makes antibodies directed against "self". These antibodies, called "auto-antibodies", react with the "self" antigens to form immune complexes. The immune complexes build up in the tissues and can cause inflammation, injury to tissues, and pain. A better understanding of how the system works will greatly increase the possibility of discovering treatments and cures for these diseases as well.

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