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    Research home > Beat Cancer Project > Preventing and treating lymphoedema

    Preventing and treating lymphoedema

    Associate Professor Natasha Harvey
    • Donor Funding: $75,000
    • Cancer Type: All Cancers
    • Cancer Stage: Treatment
    • Funded in: 2015
    • Associate Professor Natasha Harvey
      Centre for Cancer Biology, SA Pathology

    Our research

    Our research investigates the genes and signals that are important for the growth and development of lymphatic vessels (structures of the lymph system). This is important in order to understand how the growth of lymphatic vessels becomes uncontrolled (de-regulated) in cancer and how lymphatic vessel function could be restored in order to treat lymphoedema (a side-effect of cancer).

    What we aim to achieve

    Lymphatic vessels are of major importance to cancer patients. Cancer cells exploit lymphatic vessels as a “highway” for metastasis (cancer spread) and can enter pre-existing lymphatic vessels, or promote the growth of new lymphatic vessels in order to gain access to the lymph system and spread throughout the body. Damage to lymphatic vessels following cancer surgery and radiation treatment results in secondary lymphoedema, a disabling condition for a substantial proportion of cancer patients. There are currently no effective, curative treatments for lymphoedema. By understanding the signals that control the growth and development of lymphatic vessels, we hope to design new therapeutics that either block, or promote lymphatic vessel growth. Blocking agents should prove valuable to prevent cancer metastasis, while growth promoting agents could provide novel therapeutics for the treatment of secondary lymphoedema.

    What are the next steps and milestones for your research?

    We will continue to study how specific genes control the growth and development of lymphatic vessels and in particular, whether they are important for the process of building lymphatic vessel valves.

    What motivates you to pursue cancer research?

    I am motivated by the opportunity for our research to provide improved treatments for cancer patients. By identifying how cancer cells exploit the lymphatic vessel "highway" to spread to other parts of the body, we will gain the opportunity to intervene in this process and prevent metastasis. By understanding how lymphatic vessel growth and development is controlled, we will be able to design agents to promote lymphatic vessel growth and function and thereby effectively treat lymphoedema, a major problem for cancer patients following surgery.

    My message to supporters:

    Without the funding provided by Cancer Council SA, we would not have been able to progress our project to the point where it was competitive for funding at a national level. This funding was invaluable to us. The cancer research community of SA simply would not be able to achieve the progress that has been made without the generous support and hard work of Cancer Council SA.

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