Emphatic for Lymphatics
With a $5 million gift, Gerald M. Lemole, MD ’62, and his wife, Emily Jane Lemole, have established the Lemole Center for Integrated Lymphatics Research at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University. There are only a handful of research centers of its kind in the United States.
“Discoveries awaiting us at the Lemole Center could reconfigure our understanding of human disease,” said Amy J. Goldberg MD, FACS, Interim Dean of the school. “The lymphatic system is a vastly understudied system of the body, with many mysteries to decrypt.”
Dr. Lemole, an internationally known cardiovascular surgeon, has been fascinated with the lymphatic system since training under transplant pioneers Debakey and Cooley at the Texas Heart Institute in the 1960s. As the discussion below reveals, the lymphatic system — and Dr. Lemole’s appreciation for it — run deep.
Temple’s appreciation for the Lemoles runs deep, too. The Katz School of Medicine’s late dean, John M. Daly, MD ’73, FACS, worked closely with the Lemoles to strategize their gift. He called them “transformative philanthropists who accelerate science.”
Lemole on Lymphatics
Q: How did your interest in lymphatics begin?
A: In my early days in Houston, I was puzzled by unexplained poor heart transplant outcomes and suspected lymphatics were somehow involved. So little was known about this system at the time that it was largely overlooked. Then, serendipitously, when I returned to Temple as Chief of Cardiovascular Surgery in 1969, I met two scientists who were studying lymphatics and immunology. We started looking into how the surgical team could handle the lymphatic system during transplant surgery. Temple was one of the first institutions to appreciate the significance of lymphatics research. For the most part, scientists tend to approach it tangentially as they study other things. Temple recognizes it as the integral system that it is.
A: Yes, the lymph system is integral to every system and process in the body, to the health of all organs and tissues. It maintains organ homeostasis by returning excess interstitial fluid to the circulation. It clears the body of dietary fats, dead cells, cellular debris, and pathogens. It absorbs essential fatty acids — like vitamins A, D, and E — from the intestines and transports them to the blood. In addition, the lymphatic system is one of the most important components of the human immune system, with major roles in innate and adaptive immunity. The contributions of the lymphatic system to health, to every function of the body, cannot be overstated. Untreated lymph-related illness can be serious, even deadly.
Q: In 1981, with an article you wrote that was published in the Annals of Thoracic Surgery, you became the first to recognize lymphatic dysfunction in the origins of cardiac atherosclerosis. In 2016, you revisited the topic in the journal.
A: Little was known in 1981 about lymphatic filtration in the clearance of lipids from the coronary wall, but I believed that deficiency in that process — lymphostasis — was a critical factor in the development of atherosclerosis, and now we know this to be true. There is a strong association between defects in cardiac lymphatic function and the progression of cardiovascular disease. Therapies to improve lymphatic flow could advance the prevention and treatment of atherosclerotic disease. In fact, Michael Autieri, PhD, the director of our new research center, is looking into this. His lab is pinpointing the role of lymphatic vasculature in driving or resolving the atherosclerotic process. And he’s identified a potential therapeutic agent: A cytokine called interleuken-19, which holds great promise as a therapeutic agent with potent anti-inflammatory, anti-atherosclerotic, and pro-angiogenic actions. About seven other lymphatics research projects are already underway at the Center related to the heart and brain. It’s exciting.
Q: What is your vision for the Center?
A: It’s been my lifelong goal to see lymphatics gain greater attention and appreciation within the scientific and medical communities. The work that will be done in the Lemole Center will help get us there — positioning Temple to compete for NIH grant funding in lymphatics, forging scientific progress, educating seasoned professionals and students, publishing, raising awareness — and ultimately improving patient care. The Lemole Center is multidisciplinary, yet integrated around a lymphatics focus. Clinicians and scientists will collaborate to seek out new insights into the lymphatic system and its roles in human health and disease. The goal is clinical impact. To advance approaches to detecting, preventing, and treating not just lymphatic system issues but many disease states, including edema, infarction, atherosclerosis, and neurodegeneration.
About Gerald Lemole, MD
A 1962 graduate of the Lewis Katz School of Medicine, Gerald Lemole, MD, has accrued many “firsts.”
In 1968 he was part of the team that performed the first heart transplant in the U.S. In 1969 when he returned to Temple as Chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery, he performed the first coronary bypass surgery in the tristate region.
Lemole has had a distinguished career. His leadership contributions include roles as Chief of Surgery at Deborah Heart and Lung Center (New Jersey); Chief of Cardiovascular Surgery at the Medical Center of Delaware; and the W. L. Samuel Carpenter III Distinguished Chair of Cardiovascular Surgery at the Christiana Care Health System in Delaware.
Throughout, he’s remained close to Temple as a major benefactor and leader. He chaired LKSOM’s Board of Visitors from 2011 to 2014, established the Lemole Lecture Series in Integrative Medicine, and named a major conference center in the school’s Medical Education and Research Building. Lemole is currently writing a book about the lymphatic system.
Bottom Photo: Michael Autieri, PhD, Director of the Lemole Center for Integrated Lymphatics Research, is a respected educator and research leader who has been on the Temple faculty since 1998. He’s also Associate Director of the Cardiovascular Research Center and holds professorships in the Sol Sherry Thrombosis Research Center, Center for Metabolic Disease Research, and Department of Physiology.
- Giselle Zayon