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Bioengineering Seminar

"Lymphatic Vessels: Where Biotransport Meets Immunity" - Melody Swartz, Ph.D. - University of Chicago


"Lymphatic Vessels: Where Biotransport Meets Immunity"

Melody Swartz, Ph.D.

William B. Ogden Professor

Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering 

University of Chicago

Register HERE for Zoom Link


While the traditional view of lymphatic vessel function is to drain excess fluid from peripheral tissues and return them to the blood circulation, there is a growing appreciation for lymphatic endothelial cells (LECs) as important players in immunity, as they are the first cells that come into direct contact with peripheral antigens, cytokines, danger signals and immune cells travelling from peripheral tissues to lymph nodes. They also form conduits in the lymph node that direct different molecules to different cells, for example to B cells and immature dendritic cells, in turn helping to regulate the spatial and temporal kinetics of antigen presentation. We aim to understand how lymphatic vessels and their transport functions affect and regulate immunity, and further, how that might be manipulated for immunotherapy. In contrast to passive drainage, we found that LECs actively transport fluid and solutes, which not only regulates the kinetics of antigen transport to the lymph node but also modulates local interstitial flow. Furthermore, LECs can directly regulate immune cells – for example, by taking up and cross-presenting exogenous antigens to educate naïve T cells towards a memory phenotype. In chronic infection and cancer, lymphatic vessels can expand (lymphangiogenesis) and we explore how this affects adaptive immune responses. On the translational side, we are engineering novel strategies to exploit lymphangiogenesis for cancer immunotherapy.  Beyond cancer, our findings suggest that LECs may be potential targets for immunomodulation in vaccination, autoimmunity, and allergy.  


Swartz started her independent career as an assistant professor at Northwestern University in the Department of Biomedical Engineering before moving to the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), where she was promoted to full professor and eventually served as director of the Institute of Bioengineering.

Trained as a bioengineer, Prof. Swartz uses quantitative approaches in immunobiology and physiology, including biotransport and biomechanics, to develop a deeper understanding of how the lymphatic system regulates immunity in homeostasis and disease, particularly in cancer and chronic inflammation. Her lab applies this knowledge to develop novel immunotherapeutic approaches in cancer, including lymph node-targeting vaccine approaches, as well as in vitro model systems that recapitulate relevant features of the tumor-immune interface.

Among her many honors, Swartz was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2023, National Academy of Medicine in 2020, elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2018, and named a MacArthur Fellow in 2012.

This special presentation is co-hosted by Georgia Tech's Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience (IBB), IBB's Immunoengineering Center, and the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory University.