Virginia Tech, Temple University scientists awarded grant to research lipedema, an under-studied disease of fat tissues – BIOENGINEER.ORG

Most of us want to get rid of fat. Jennifer Munson and Evangelia Bellas just want to understand that.

Most of us want to get rid of fat. Jennifer Munson and Evangelia Bellas just want to understand that.

Munson, an associate professor at the Fralin Institute for Biomedical Research at the VTC, and Bellas, an assistant professor in the Department of Bioengineering at Temple University, recently donated $ 250,000 to the Lipedema Foundation to investigate the causes and treatment of lipedema, an often painful disease characterized by fat accumulation. in the limbs. The two of them are the main researchers for the grant.

Lipedema is insufficiently researched, poorly understood and is often misdiagnosed, according to the foundation. One of the main goals of a nonprofit organization is to develop a diagnostic test so that clinicians can more accurately identify it, which will lead to the development of treatment.

Munson and Bellas were drawn to the unexplored boundaries of lipedema research.

“It’s exciting to apply innovative techniques to a disease about which very little is known,” said Munson, a pioneer in studying fluid flow through human tissues. “With almost everything we do, we may find something new and different from what others who study lipedem have discovered.”

Lipedema has received so little attention that it is unclear how many people are affected, although it is diagnosed almost exclusively in women. The chronic condition is characterized by accumulation of fatty tissue in the legs and arms that can cause pain, swelling, and light bruising. It is often misdiagnosed as obesity or lymphedema, another disease defined by the accumulation of lymph fluid in adipose tissue.

Munson, who is also an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics at Virginia Tech, and Bellas are both tissue engineers, but bring different, complementary strengths to research. Munson’s state-of-the-art use of imaging to study fluid flow will neatly pair with Bellas ’extensive experience in adipose tissue study and its vast repository of tissue models.

“So little is known about this disease that you have to be creative; you have to become interdisciplinary, ”Bellas said.

Both predict that finding accurately diagnosed patients with lipedema will be their biggest challenge.

“You can’t just go through the database and find all the patients with lipedema,” Munson said. “You actually have to talk to doctors and find out the different symptoms that these patients have.”

Munson and Bellas believe that fluid transfer through adipose tissue or problems with the vascular system in the tissue could be a central cause of the disease. Other scientists who have studied lipedema have a similar view of fluid movement as a source, but have focused on the lymphatic system.

Munson and Bellas, however, suspect that the problem is not in poor drainage, but further upstream, in the movement of fluid within the adipose tissue itself.

Researchers will first make models of lipedemic tissue with conditions such as low oxygen levels, fibrous tissue, and problems with blood and lymph vessels. They will then test some interventions, such as tissue compression, which is a common treatment. Finally, they will test treatments on the actual tissue of patients with lipedema.

Bellas and Munson plan to develop computer models to predict what will happen to real patients, including at the patient-specific level, which could be turned into a diagnostic tool.

The two also hope to encourage more scientists to study lipedema.

“I would be so frustrated if I were a patient with lipedema,” Bellas said. “I hope that when we talk more about lipedema, more research will be done.”

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