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Transl Oncol. 2010 Dec 1;3(6):362-72.

Human Lymphatic Architecture and Dynamic Transport Imaged Using Near-infrared Fluorescence.

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  • 1Center for Molecular Imaging, The Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, Houston, TX, USA.



Although the importance of lymphatic function is well recognized, the lack of real-time imaging modalities limits our understanding of its role in many diseases. In a phase 0 exploratory study, we used dynamic, near-infrared (NIR) fluorescence imaging to assess the extremes of lymphatic architecture and transport in healthy human subjects and in subjects clinically diagnosed with unilateral lymphedema (LE), a disease that can be prevalent in cancer survivors.


Active lymphatic propulsion was imaged after intradermal injections of 25 µg of indocyanine green (total maximum dose ≤400 µg) bilaterally in the arms or legs of control and subjects. Images show well-defined lymphatic structures with propulsive dye transport in limbs of healthy subjects. In LE subjects, we observed extravascular dye accumulation, networks of fluorescent lymphatic capillaries, and/or tortuous lymphatic vessels in all symptomatic and some asymptomatic limbs. Statistical models indicate that disease status and/or limb significantly affect parameters of apparent lymph propagation velocity and contractile frequency.


These clinical research studies demonstrate the potential of NIR fluorescence imaging as a diagnostic measure of functional lymphatics and as a new tool in translational research studies to decipher the role of the lymphatic system in cancer and other diseases.

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