Human lymph disease could tail off thanks to gecko

Wednesday, 15 January 2003

Many lizards shed their tails, and then regrow them, as a survival mechanism - and now researchers from the University of Adelaide believe understanding this act could also help them treat a lymphatic condition in humans.

The University of Adelaide research team, led by Associate Professor Chris Daniels (Department of Environmental Biology) and Associate Professor Rod Cooter (previously head of the Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, University of Adelaide and Royal Adelaide Hospital) have had their findings summarised in the latest edition of New Scientist.

They are examining how a lizard's lymphatic network responds when it loses its tail, and how this could be applied to the human condition of lymphoedema (the swelling of limbs due to the body's lymphatic system being impaired).

Secondary lymphoedema is a common side effect associated with mastectomies and other similar forms of radical surgery.

"For our study we examined the common Australian gecko Christinus marmoratus and the way it regenerates its tail," Dr Daniels says.

"It is obviously a major trauma to lose a body part and then regrow it, but geckos and other lizards seem to be able to do it with a minimal amount of stress and swelling around the affected area.

"Our study showed that an increase in production of a certain protein growth factor contributed to the gecko being able to quickly regenerate the lymphatic system at the site of its tail loss. This growth factor is similar to the VEGF protein found in the human body."

Dr Cooter says the findings are encouraging for the treatment of lymphoedema in humans, but much more research is needed.

"Discovering that geckos use a protein growth factor similar to one found in humans brings us one step closer to being able to treat lymphoedema more easily, but there is still quite some way to go," Dr Cooter says.

"This discovery should enhance our understanding of how lymphatics grow in the human body, with the long term aim of being able to combine this scientific knowledge with the latest developments in microsurgery to hopefully give lymphoedema sufferers an effective treatment."

 

Contact Details

Dr Rod Cooter
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Mr Ben Lewis
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Dr Chris Daniels
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Ms Robyn Mills
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The University of Adelaide
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Mr David Ellis
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