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October 23, 2015
Actress Bates Kicks Off NIH Lymphatics Symposium

“Lymphatic disease is a life sentence,” said Kathy Bates, Academy Award-winning actress and national spokesperson for the Lymphatic Education & Research Network (LE&RN), in her opening comments at the 2015 NIH Lymphatics Symposium on Sept. 29 at the NIAID Conference Center.

The 2-day trans-NIH symposium, “The Third Circulation: Lymphatics as Regulators in Health and Disease,” focused on research into how the lymphatic system affects other organ systems. The body’s lymphatic system consists of an intricate network of vessels, tissues and lymph nodes that play key roles in maintaining fluid balance, immune defense and fat absorption in the intestines. Sponsors of the event included NHLBI, NIDDK, NIAID, NEI, NCI and NICHD.

Bates kicked off the symposium by offering a patient’s perspective on living with lymphedema, a chronic condition in which fluid builds up in tissues and causes them to swell. Lymphedema can occur when lymphatic vessels are blocked or damaged or lymph nodes are removed by surgery. Although the condition can be partially managed with treatment, there is no cure.

Academy Award-winning actress Kathy Bates, who is also national spokesperson for the Lymphatic Education & Research Network, speaks at the 2015 NIH Lymphatics Symposium. Bates and NIDDK director Dr. Griffin Rodgers

Academy Award-winning actress Kathy Bates (l), who is also national spokesperson for the Lymphatic Education & Research Network, speaks at the 2015 NIH Lymphatics Symposium. At right, Bates and NIDDK director Dr. Griffin Rodgers

PHOTOS: ERNIE BRANSON

Bates spoke about her own experience with lymphedema, which she developed following breast cancer surgery, and shared stories from others living with the disease. Bates asked the audience to “imagine a lifetime of pain, swelling, daily self-massage, being careful to avoid infections that require costly trips to the hospital, wearing wraps and compression sleeves in hot weather.”

Many physicians are unfamiliar with or poorly informed about lymphedema, she told the audience. As a result, patients often do not receive a timely diagnosis or proper therapy to manage their symptoms, which can be debilitating. Up to 10 million people in the United States have lymphedema or other lymphatic diseases, according to LE&RN.

“We are only beginning to appreciate how many organ systems in the body rely on a healthy lymphatic system to maintain their function and to avert disease,” said NIDDK director Dr. Griffin Rodgers in introductory remarks at the symposium.

The symposium brought together lymphatic system researchers and organ experts from across the U.S. and Europe to explore the function of lymphatics in health and disease. Scientific talks and discussion sessions focused on the role of the lymphatic system in the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, pulmonary, immune and central nervous systems and its involvement in eye diseases. A poster session showcased additional research in these areas.

Although the symposium covered a broad array of research directions, a common theme that emerged was the opportunity for new scientific discoveries related to the lymphatic system. By leveraging new technologies, researchers may gain better understanding of how the lymphatic system functions and is regulated under different conditions, which may lead to development of new treatments. In addition, multidisciplinary collaborations fostered at the symposium promise to boost what Rodgers termed the “understudied field” of the lymphatic system and how it affects the function of other organs in the body.

Video recordings from the symposium are archived at http:/videocast.nih.gov.

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