Dixon's research focuses on elucidating and quantifying the molecular aspects that control lymphatic function as they respond to the dynamically changing mechanical environment they encounter in the body. Through the use of tissue-engineered model systems and animal models, our research is shedding light on key functions of lymphatic transport, and the consequence of disease on these functions. One such function is the lymphatic transport of dietary lipid from the intestine to the circulation. Recent evidence from our lab suggests that this process involves active uptake into lymphatics by the lymphatic endothelial cells. There are currently no efficacious cures for people suffering from lymphedema, and the molecular details connecting lymphedema severity with clinically observed obesity and lipid accumulation are unknown. Knowledge of these mechanisms will provide insight for planning treatment and prevention strategies for people facing lipid-lymphatic related diseases.
Intrinsic to the lymphatic system are the varying mechanical forces (i.e., stretch, fluid shear stress) that the vessels encounter as they seek to maintain interstitial fluid balance and promote crucial transport functions, such as lipid transport and immune cell trafficking. Thus, we are also interested in understanding the nature of these forces in both healthy and disease states, such as lymphedema, in order to probe the biological response of the lymphatic system to mechanical forces. The complexity of these questions requires the development of new tools and technologies in tissue engineering and imaging. In the context of exploring lymphatic physiology, students in Dixon's laboratory learn to weave together techniques in molecular and cell biology, biomechanics, imaging, computer programming, and image and signal processing to provide insight into the regulation of lymphatic physiology. Students in the lab also have the opportunity to work in an interdisciplinary environment, as we collaborate with clinicians, life scientists, and other engineers, thus preparing the student for a career in academia and basic science research, or a career in industry.