Quantifying the role of lymphatics in lipid transport and lymphatic filariasis using novel engineering approaches
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The lymphatic system has fundamental physiological roles in maintaining fluid homeostasis, immune cell trafficking and lipid transport from the small intestine to the venous circulation. Lymphatic vessels are the main functional organ responsible for the diverse transport roles the system plays. Unlike the blood vasculature, the lymphatic system does not have a central pump, such as the heart, and relies on a variety of factors to move lymph through. It was long thought that only external factors, such as skeletal muscle contraction and lymph formation, played a role in the functional transport capacity of these vessels. With the advancement of imaging capabilities (both hardware and software), it has become clear in the past two decades or so that the main factor in driving lymph transport is the ability of these vessels to intrinsically contract whereby each vessel is comprised of a chain of ‘mini pumps’ in series. The functional capacity of these vessels is thus now understood to be primarily determined by this pumping activity that has been shown to be regulated by various mechanical and biochemical cues. Lymphatic vessel dysfunction has been implicated in a variety of diseases including many lipid related pathologies and a neglected tropical disease known as lymphatic filariasis. While it has been possible to study the vessel function in the context of fluid drainage and immune cell trafficking, the capability to understand the role of lymphatic vessels in lipid transport has not been available due to the lack of experimental animal models and acquisition systems. As part of this thesis, we sought to develop an experimental animal model along with hardware and software tools to investigate the interplay between lymphatics and their lipid content. We report the first functional measurements of how vessels respond to elevated lipid loads. We further utilized our engineering expertise to develop an experimental platform allowing us to further understand the parasite known as B. malayi that migrates to and resides in lymphatic vessels.