There’s always something going on in the world of lymphedema and lymphatic research! It can be a lot to keep up with, so here’s a digest of some of the latest headlines from the past couple weeks carefully curated to keep you in the lymphie loop.
“Volcanic Minerals, Not Worms, Caused Disease Outbreak in Uganda”
In 2015, a team composed of researchers from the Ugandan health ministry, the World Health Organization regional office, and Makerere University went to investigate what they were told was an outbreak of lymphatic filariasis emerging in Kamwenge, in Western Uganda.
Lymphatic filariasis is usually caused by parasitic worms that nest in the lymph nodes, which then grow and impede the flow of lymph fluid. The investigators assumed that this was the case in Kamwenge — until blood tests for worms came up negative.
The researchers found that it wasn’t worm disease at all but rather podoconiosis, a disease caused by walking barefoot in volcanic soils. The soils contain tiny, sharp alkaline mineral crystals that work their way under the skin, triggering inflammation that can develop over time into weeping sores and fibrous tissue.
Health ministry epidemiologist Dr. Christine Kihembo is quoted in the article estimating that many of the affected persons had probably been suffering silently without help for more than 30 years.
“Blood–Brain Barrier Finding May Offer Insights on Cognitive Decline of Aging”
A recent study conducted by National Institutes of Health investigators has found that a population of cells that protect the brain against diseases in whats called the blood-brain barrier are not immune cells as previously thought, but rather originate from endothelial cells in the lining of the circulatory and lymphatic systems.
These cells, called fluorescent granular perithelial cells (FGPs), act as sentries on the surface of the brain by engulfing toxins, cellular waste, and microbes. The cells are thought to be important in a variety of human brain disorders and conditions. According to the study’s senior author Brant Weinstein, Ph.D., “Learning more about how FGPs function may lead to a greater understanding of dementia and other conditions.”
The researchers conducted experiments using zebrafish, which are transparent when they’re young. Under a light microscope, the fish’s developing circulatory systems are easily observable and provide a means for studying the role of FGPs in protecting the brain. By inserting a green fluorescent protein into the tissues that give rise to blood and lymph vessels in embryonic zebrafish, the researchers observed green FGPs on the surface of the fish’s brains, thus confirming that the cells originated from endothelial tissue.
“Elephantiasis is no longer a public health problem in Togo: WHO commends Togo for Historic Achievement”
After ten years of persistent efforts, Togo has officially eliminated lymphatic filariasis as a public health problem.
The Minister of Health and Social Protection of Togo, Professor Moustafa Mijiyawa, acknowledged with gratitude everyone whose hard work has made this achievement possible, and reaffirmed the government’s commitment to improving health care for everyone: “Even with elimination, the job is not over in Togo. We will continue to strengthen our efforts to detect and prevent any future return of the disease and to provide care for people experiencing ongoing health problems as a result of earlier infection.”
Togo joins five others in the Western Pacific Region to eliminate lymphatic filariasis (Cambodia, Cook Islands, Marshall Islands, Niue, and Vanuatu) and two countries in the Southeast Asia Region (Maldives and Sri Lanka). Thirty-three other endemic countries in the African region still require efforts to reach the same status.
“The world’s assault on tropical diseases is working”
Neglected tropical diseases have historically been overlooked by the scientific community and pharmaceutical industry, but advocates believe that’s changing.
Global health leaders say that enormous progress has been made toward eradicating a number of neglected tropical diseases, thanks to efforts by the World Health Organization and other institutions and nonprofits to treat hundreds of millions of people in at-risk countries.
Ellen Agler, the CEO of nongovernmental agency The END Fund, said: “They’ve been around for thousands of years, these diseases. You read about them in the Bible. Egyptian pharaohs had these diseases […] and it’s just remarkable to think that we are at that point in history where we can really turn the tide on something that’s been plaguing humanity forever.”
“Three-dimensional images of a network of the smallest blood vessels”
To help visualize the complicated network of small blood vessels found in organ tissues, an interdisciplinary team from the Universities of Bayreuth and Marburg have developed a software system through which data is filtered and converted into high-resolution 3D images of the vessels.
“Our process is of great interest to basic research in medicine, which has not yet been able to provide a precise description of the complex network of blood vessels in the spleen and in the bone marrow. However, with the current state of technology, it is still too slow to be used for medical diagnosis since it requires processing enormous amounts of data,” explained Prof. Dr. Michael Guthe in Bayreuth, Germany.
Their analyses has already led to some significant findings regarding blood vessels. Next, the research group plans to focus on white blood cells called lymphocytes, hoping to explain how they work together in mucous membranes.
“‘Bite-sized’ health films can boost diabetes self-management”
Recent studies have shown that educational short health films improve patient compliance with self-management of their chronic conditions, so much so that the Welsh government has given funding to the eHealth Digital Media firm to allow all NHS Wales patients access to the “Living with Diabetes” and “Living with Lymphoedema” film series.
The short films, which are accessible to patients on their computer or smartphone, provide education about their conditions as well as offer information on treatment and self-care. Professor Jeffrey Stephens, one of the study authors, explained that the films, “alongside standard treatment, can afford significant benefits to the growing number of people who live with one or more chronic conditions.”