Researchers at the University of Virginia recently made a discovery that will change the way physicians view the central nervous system forever. For decades, people believed that the brain and the lymphatic system were two separate, unconnected systems. But now, new research published in Nature suggests just the opposite; Scientists discovered a hidden system of vessels in the body that directly connect the brain and the lymphatic system.
The breakthrough came after researchers noticed vessel-like patterns in the distribution of immune cells dissected from the brain membranes of mice. They tested the slide for lymphatic vessels, and just like that, uncovered a hidden system.
The vessels connecting the brain to the lymphatic system follow the path of a large blood vessel down the sinuses, a spot that is rather difficult to image, which is one reason they may have escaped detection until now.
Lymphatic System Carries Out Waste, Toxins
The lymphatic system is comprised of tissues and organs that allow your body to get rid of waste, toxins, and any other compounds you don’t want around. It plays a vital role in immune function, both because of its elimination abilities and because it transports lymph, a fluid which contains white blood cells, around the body.
What It Means for Neurodegenerative Diseases
This discovery creates an entirely new way of looking at neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s because doctors and researchers must now consider the role the immune system may play in actually creating the disease environment, not just responding to it.
Take the example of protein accumulation in the brain of people with Alzheimer’s disease – what if it’s the job of these lymphatic vessels to carry away excess protein? Until now, science said these vessels didn’t exist. Clearly, this new discovery has opened the door for a whole new body of research to emerge, and scientists have a lot of work to do.
A Humbling Discovery
Not only is this new discovery an exciting advancement in the study of neurodegenerative diseases, it is also a humbling reminder for the researchers involved. One team member relayed his astonishment: “I really did not believe there are structures in the body that we are not aware of,” he said. “I thought the body was mapped.”
As it turns out, there will always be room for new discoveries, even when science seems to have explained it all away.