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Updated 11:00 AM November 24, 2003



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Evidence links inflammation to venous disease

For a medical disorder affecting more than 250,000 Americans each year, researchers don't know much more today about what causes blood clots in veins than they did more than 100 years ago.

But deep vein thromboses (DVTs) are a serious health problem, especially in the elderly. When blood clots form in deep leg veins, they can permanently damage the venous system or even be fatal, if a blood clot travels to the lungs.

Until recently, DVT was thought to be solely a blood or vascular disorder. Now, scientists from the Medical School have discovered intriguing new evidence to support the idea that the development of blood clots in veins—just like blocked arteries in atherosclerosis—is an inflammatory process.

"When a blood clot develops in superficial veins of the leg—a condition called phlebitis—the redness and swelling associated with inflammation are visible," says Dr. Thomas Wakefield, a scientist and vascular surgeon in the Cardiovascular Center. "When a clot forms deep inside the leg, these signs are hidden, so physicians have rarely associated DVTs with inflammation."

Working with Dr. Daniel Myers, an assistant professor of vascular surgery and animal medicine in the Medical School, Wakefield is trying to figure out exactly what happens inside veins when a blood clot develops. In a study published in the November 2003 issue of The Journal of Vascular Surgery, he and Myers report that inflammatory molecules and immune system cells play a major role in the process.

Wakefield says the ultimate goal of his research is finding new ways to inhibit clot formation in his patients by using an anti-inflammatory approach, instead of relying on anticoagulants to treat DVT after it develops. To read the full story, visit

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and Wyeth Research of Cambridge, Mass. Others who worked on the study include U-M research associates Angela Hawley, Diana Farris and Shirley Wrobleski; and Porama Thanaporn, a U-M medical student, as well as researchers from Harvard University, Wyeth Research and Critical Therapeutics in Cambridge, Mass.

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