Dr. Melissa B. Aldrich
The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
McGovern Medical School
Institute of Molecular Medicine
My research focuses on lymphedema (LE), a disease that afflicts the growing population of cancer survivors in the US. LE presents as swollen arms or legs that appear any time after cancer surgery and/or radiation to lymph node basins, even years afterward. The etiology of LE is unknown, and cancer survivors who do not have LE fear its occurrence. Curiously, some cancer patients who receive extensive damage to lymphatics never develop LE, while other patients with minimal damage encounter the swelling, pain, skin infections (cellulitis), and depression of LE. There is no cure for LE, and the palliative treatment has not changed in over 80 years—specialized massage to remove accumulated fluid, 24/7 compression bandaging of the affected limb(s) to minimize fluid accrual, and meticulous skin care to prevent cellulitis attacks.
I am PI of a clinical study of breast cancer patients who are at high risk of developing LE. The prospective study entails a two-year surveillance, investigating systemic immune biomarkers and lymphatic function and vessel architecture changes that accompany LE appearance. My colleagues in the Center for Molecular Imaging at the Institute for Molecular Medicine invented an imaging system that “sees through your skin” to allow visualization of lymphatic pumping in real time. This remarkable technology provides unparalleled images and movies of lymphatic vessels at work (or not, in the case of LE).
Work in my lab would include some immunological bench work, as well as training in good clinical practice (GCP) and good laboratory practice (GLP) methods, and, where appropriate, participation in the clinical imaging efforts. Upcoming projects include a rheumatoid arthritis/nanotopography clinical study.