Lymphatic Tissue Engineering: A Further Step for Successful Lymphedema Treatment

Andreas Spörlein, Patrick A. Will, Katja Kilian, Emre Gazyakan, Justin M. Sacks, Ulrich Kneser, Christoph Hirche

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background Secondary lymphedema, caused by oncologic surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, is one of the most relevant, nononcological complications affecting cancer survivors. Severe functional deficits can result in impairing quality of life and a societal burden related to increased treatment costs. Often, conservative treatments are not sufficient to alleviate lymphedema or to prevent stage progression of the disease, as they do not address the underlying etiology that is the disruption of lymphatic pathways. In recent years, lymphatic surgery approaches were revolutionized by advances in microsurgical technique. Currently, lymphedema can effectively be treated by procedures such as lymphovenous anastomosis (LVA) and lymph node transfer (LNT). However, not all patients have suitable lymphatic vessels, and lymph node harvesting is associated with risks. In addition, some data have revealed nonresponders to the microsurgical techniques. Methods A literature review was performed to evaluate the value of lymphatic tissue engineering for plastic surgeons and to give an overview of the achievements, challenges, and goals of the field. Results While certain challenges exist, including cell harvesting, nutrient supply, biocompatibility, and hydrostatic properties, it is possible and desirable to engineer lymph nodes and lymphatic vessels. The path toward clinical translation is considered more complex for LNTs secondary to the complex microarchitecture and pending final mechanistic clarification, while LVA is more straight forward. Conclusion Lymphatic tissue engineering has the potential to be the next step for microsurgical treatment of secondary lymphedema. Current and future researches are necessary to optimize this clinical paradigm shift for improved surgical treatment of lymphedema.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)465-474
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of reconstructive microsurgery
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jul 1 2021


  • lymph nodes
  • lymphatic vessels
  • lymphedema
  • microsurgery
  • tissue engineering


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