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Immune cells known as macrophages linked to growth of lymph vessels in eyes, scientists discover

Scientists at Schepens Eye Research Institute have discovered that a particular immune cell contributes to the growth of new lymph vessels, which aid in healing. This cell, known as a macrophage, is called in by the body during the wound healing process. The discovery of this new role for the macrophage, published in the September 2005 Journal of Clinical Investigation, may ultimately inspire innovative treatments for blinding eye disease, as well as for other diseases, such as cancer, that rely on the lymph vessels to spread abnormal cells throughout the body.

"This is a very significant finding," according to Joan Stein-Streilein, PhD, and Patricia A. D'Amore, PhD, senior authors of the study, Senior Scientists at SERI and members of the Departments of Medicine and Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School, respectively. "It unlocks a whole new dimension in our understanding of these important cells."

The body uses lymph vessels to bring immune cells to an injured organ to carry away debris and fluid to aid healing. Lymph vessels can play a different kind of role in cancer, offering tumor cells a pathway for spreading to other body parts, in a process known as metastasis.

Macrophages are large white blood cells called in during wound healing to ingest foreign invaders such as bacteria. They can also present pieces of those intruders to the immune system to jump-start the immune response. Produced in the bone marrow, they can be found in almost all tissues of the body. Unlike many other parts of the body, the clear outer layer of the eye, known as the cornea, does not normally have lymph vessels, except when injury causes lymph vessels to sprout from the edge of the cornea to help heal the wound.

Dr. Kazuichi Maruyama, a post-doctoral fellow in D'Amore's and Stein-Streilein's laboratories at SERI, began to suspect a new connection between macrophages and lymph vessels while studying corneal transplants in mice. He became aware of
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Contact: Patti Jacobs
pjacobs12@comcast.net
617-872-0364
Schepens Eye Research Institute
1-Sep-2005


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