There have been several questions recently asking about treating lymphedema with a growth factor. Basically, they are asking if there is some way to grow new lymphatic channels to overcome the blockage that exists due to surgery and radiation. There is promise in current research on a protein called VEGF-C; however, it is still in the research stage.

The use of growth factors has become more common in medicine. In oncology we commonly use growth factors to stimulate the growth of the infection fighting white blood cells after treatment with chemotherapy. In the area of neurology, scientist have been working with nerve growth factor to find ways to regenerate nerves. Several years ago a protein that is made by the body that stimulates the growth of the vessels was identified. This was called Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor or VEGF. Recently, a member of the VEGF family that stimulates the growth of the lymphatics was identified. This has been called VEGF-C. The discovery of VEGF-C opens up the possibility that sometime in the future we may be able to stimulate the growth of the patient?s own lymphatic system to make new lymphatic channels. This technology is in the early development stages and is not yet ready for human trials. Nevertheless, it is an exciting and promising discovery, one that offers the hope of effective treatment for patient?s who su ffer from lymphedema. There are several research papers on this subject and I have included the references for these at the end of the letter.

Tony Reid MD Ph.D

Lymboussaki , Expression of the vascular endothelial growth factor C receptor VEGFR-3 in lymphatic endothelium of the skin and in vascular tumors. Am J Pathol 1998 Aug;153(2):395-403.

Witzenbichler B, Vascular endothelial growth factor-C (VEGF-C/VEGF-2) promotes angiogenesis in the setting of tissue ischemia. Am J Pathol 1998 Aug;153(2):381-94.

Jeltsch M, Hyperplasia of lymphatic vessels in VEGF-C transgenic mice. Science 1997 May 30;276(5317):1423-5.

Dr. Reid's Corner
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