Research in autoimmunity tends to focus on the immune cells mediating disease and not structural aspects of involved tissues. However, a review article published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology highlights the role of a bodily structure associated with the immune system, known as the lymphatic system, in the pathophysiology of rheumatic autoimmune diseases such as Lupus, Scleroderma, Dermatomyositis, and Rheumatoid Arthritis, and the potential value of alternative medicines such as acupuncture for treating these disorders.
This network of vessels connects the extracellular matrix of many tissues to lymph nodes and eventually the bloodstream, is necessary for clearing immune cells and fluid from sites of inflammation, and has increasingly recognized roles in mediating immunological tolerance.
Rheumatic autoimmune diseases are associated with dysfunction of lymphatic vessels that limits the flow of fluid and cells from tissues to the bloodstream.
While 21st Century therapies such as Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF) inhibitors have been demonstrated in clinical trials to contribute to combatting autoimmune diseases, alternative medicines known for hundreds of years to remedy rheumatic diseases, such as lymphatic-directed massage techniques and acupuncture, may soon also be recognized by researchers as grounded in modern medical science.
Peristaltic pulse dynamic compression devices (PPDC), a type of massage therapy technology, have been demonstrated to induce the expression of anti-inflammatory genes and may contribute to restoring lymphatic system functionality.
Acupuncture may stimulate nerves and other cell types to support the activity of lymphatic vessels, and acupoints, the sites of needle insertion during acupuncture, interestingly co-localize with lymphatic and blood vessels, nerves, and niches of an immune cell type that contributes to the regulation of fluid flow through tissues, potentially influencing the pathogenesis of Rheumatoid Arthritis and other immune-mediated disorders.
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Multiple “modern” medicines and technologies are currently under development for the diagnosis, monitoring, and treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis, including the macrophage-sensing Tc99m Tilmanocept Imaging platform being evaluated by Navidea Pharmaceuticals in human trials.
The scientific basis for the efficacy of alternative medicine will likely be explored in greater detail within the next decade and may contribute to expanding their use by patients with rheumatic diseases.