Dr. Chen's research team focuses on molecular and cellular mechanisms of ocular inflammation and immunity, particularly those involved in lymphatic and blood vessel development and regulation. Unlike blood vessels which have been studied extensively in the past, lymphatic research represents an explosive field of new discovery owing to the identification of several lymphatic specific markers and the advancement in technology. The cornea provides an ideal tissue for vascular studies due to its accessible location, transparent nature, and vessel-free and vessel-inducible features. Once induced, corneal lymphatic vessels enhance high volume delivery of antigens and immune cells, and accelerate inflammation and transplant rejection. Their primary long-term goal is to elucidate the basic molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying lymphatic vessel development and to discover novel therapeutic targets for lymphatic-related diseases inside and outside of the eye.
Research on corneal lymphatic vessels has broad clinical implications. For example, they have recently discovered that the Schlemm's canal, a critical structure of aqueous humor outflow pathway, possesses lymphatic features. Further investigation on this novel phenomenon promises for divulging new mechanisms and therapeutic strategies for glaucoma, a major cause of blindness in the world. Moreover, the lymphatic network penetrates most tissues in the body, and its dysfunctions have been found in a diverse array of disorders, which include but are not limited to cancer metastasis, diabetes, obesity, lymphedema, and inflammatory, infectious and immune diseases.