Cancer metastasis, lymphedema, lipid transport, and immune cell function all depend on lymphatic function or dysfunction, and are all tied to interstitial fluid balance and transport. The lymphatic system is part of the circulation; it drains fluid, solutes, and macromolecules from the interstitial space and returns them to the blood. It also is a critical component of the immune system; immune cells traffic through lymphatic vessels and reside in lymph nodes, where they communicate with each other and can become activated. Cancer cells also utilize lymphatic vessels, and likely interstitial flow, to spread to distant sites throughout the body. Finally, since lymphatic vessels drain lipids (in the form of chylomicrons) from the gut, they play important roles in lipid trafficking and possibly metabolism. Despite its importance, the regulatory biology of lymphatic function is poorly understood.
The Swartz Lab is focused on building an integrated understanding of how these functions relate to each other, particularly with respect to immune regulation and cancer immunotherapy. They use approaches from engineering, physiology, and immunology to reveal underlying mechanisms by which lymphatics fine-tune immune responses, as well as develop translational applications such as in vitro model systems and novel approaches to cancer immunotherapy. The lab is highly interdisciplinary, and they collaborate with colleagues from immunology, biophysics, cancer biology, clinical oncology, and molecular engineering.