Background: Lymphedema after surgery, infection, or radiation therapy is a common and often incurable problem. Application of lymphangiogenic growth factors has been shown to induce lymphangiogenesis and to reduce tissue edema. The therapeutic effect of autologous lymph node transfer combined with adenoviral growth factor expression was evaluated in a newly established porcine model of limb lymphedema.
Methods and results: The lymphatic vasculature was destroyed within a 3-cm radius around an inguinal lymph node. Lymph node grafts and adenovirally (Ad) delivered vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)-C (n=5) or VEGF-D (n=9) were used to reconstruct the lymphatic network in the inguinal area; AdLacZ (β-galactosidase; n=5) served as a control. Both growth factors induced robust growth of new lymphatic vessels in the defect area, and postoperative lymphatic drainage was significantly improved in the VEGF-C/D-treated pigs compared with controls. The structure of the transferred lymph nodes was best preserved in the VEGF-C-treated pigs. Interestingly, VEGF-D transiently increased accumulation of seroma fluid in the operated inguinal region postoperatively, whereas VEGF-C did not have this side effect.
Conclusions: These results show that growth factor gene therapy coupled with lymph node transfer can be used to repair damaged lymphatic networks in a large animal model and provide a basis for future clinical trials of the treatment of lymphedema.