November 19, 2012

Texas A&M Health Science Center, Mizzou Team Up To Fight Lymphatic Diseases

The multi-campus model of the Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC) encourages regular collaboration among research scientists statewide, with projects linking TAMHSC-College of Medicine labs from Bryan-College Station to Round Rock, Temple and beyond.

Dr. David Zawieja

Dr. David Zawieja

But, collaborations among TAMHSC researchers and outside universities are equally common, as local research scientists Drs. David C. Zawieja, Mariappan Muthuchamy and Anatoliy Gashev and the University of Missouri’s Dr. Michael Davis can attest.

Prior to Davis’ move from Texas A&M to MU in 2005, the researchers already were working together to probe the mysteries of the lymphatic system – seeking knowledge that could lead to treatment options for medical problems associated with lymphedema, incurable conditions faced by some post-operative cancer survivors and for those suffering from filariasis (a mosquito-borne illness). But, they haven’t let Davis’ changing of colors slow their team down.

“Dr. Davis was in Temple visiting Dr. Zawieja’s lab last week,” said Dr. Muthuchamy from his lab in the Department of Systems Biology and Translational Medicine on the TAMHSC College Station Campus. The team needed to control the lymphatic pressure and measure the microscopic changes in lymphatic vessels’ diameter as they constrict, and Dr. Davis’ lab had developed the hardware and software to do it.

Dr. Mariappan Muthuchamy

Dr. Mariappan Muthuchamy

Principle investigator Dr. Gashev, also based in Temple, came from St Petersburg, Russia, to work with the Division of Lymphatic Biology and has collaborated with Dr. Davis for more than a decade. In fact, Dr. Davis is one of the co-investigators in Dr. Gashev’s research project investigating how aging affects the function of lymphatics.

The lymphatic system is a network of vessels that transport lymph fluid through the lymph nodes and back to the heart. Unlike arteries and veins, which rely on a single pump – the heart – to circulate blood, lymphatic vessels combine both cardiac and blood vessel proteins, essentially building a continuous series of “pumps” into the passageway itself.

Cancers that require surgical intervention, such as breast cancer, disrupt the lymphatic network, which then can cause the lymphatic system to stop functioning properly.

Mosquito-borne parasites also can trigger lymphatic malfunction, a major problem in developing world countries.

When this system malfunctions, the resulting fluid retention and swelling can range from painful to life-altering. Currently, there are few effective therapies to help patients cope with its effects and scant medicinal treatment options.

What Drs. Zawieja, Muthuchamy, Gashev and Davis seek is the underlying target molecules whose presence trigger the lymphatic vessel to pump the fluid through it. Knowing this could help researchers devise ways to trigger the needed lymphatic contractions.

Dr. Anatoliy Gashev

Dr. Anatoliy Gashev

“I have worked closely with Dr. Davis for over 25 years, beginning when he and I were young faculty at Texas A&M,” said Dr. Zawieja, department vice chairman and director of the lymphatic biology division. “Our families spent many memorable Saturdays in fall attending Aggie football games together. Although the physical distance between us may have grown, the synergy between Dr. Davis and the TAMHSC group have only grown stronger. And though I know Dr. Davis now wears a black-and-gold Mizzou Tiger jacket, I think I saw a maroon 12th Man T-shirt under it when he visited last week.”

Dr. Davis, an MU professor and departmental vice chair, confesses he’s pulling for Texas A&M for two reasons.

“First, TAMU is the only one of the two with a shot at a decent BCS Bowl and ranking this year,” he said. “Second, my daughter graduated from A&M and forbids me to pull for the Tigers in these games.”

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Media contact: Jeremiah McNichols, Communications Director, Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, at (979) 862-4015

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