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Theresa Lu, MD, PhD

Associate Scientist
The Hospital for Special Surgery
Research Department

Lymphatic Regulation and Photosensitivity

For some patients with lupus, exposure to the sun—or even certain kinds of indoor lighting — can trigger skin inflammation, joint pain, fever, and other symptoms. The lymphatic system, a network of tubes that transports fluid and cells throughout the body, normally limits inflammation and swelling. However, patients with lupus have high levels of type I interferons; we believe this excess of type I interferons reduces lymphatic circulation throughout the body, thereby promoting photosensitivity.

To test this hypothesis, Dr. Lu and her team will measure fluid movement through lymphatic vessels in mice and patients with lupus. They will also test in mice whether stimulating circulation in the lymphatic system can reduce photosensitivity. These studies will show if lymphatic vessels are a good target for future drugs to treat photosensitivity.

What this study means for patients
Many people with lupus are extremely sensitive to light and can develop a rash or other painful symptoms after just minutes in the sun. Dr. Lu’s team aims to discover if this photosensitivity is caused by reduced flow in the lymphatic system, a network of tubes that transports fluid and cells throughout the body.  Their results could open a new avenue for treating lupus photosensitivity, possibly even with certain types of massage that stimulate lymphatic circulation.

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