Research furthers understanding of how cellular waste supercharges immune system

By The Science Advisory Board staff writers

August 17, 2022 -- Van Andel Institute researchers have discovered that immune cells are much more flexible than previously thought in selecting the nutrients that fuel their function, including what was previously considered cellular waste.

Their research, published August 17 in the journal Cell Metabolism, could help guide future dietary recommendations meant to supercharge the human immune system and advance therapies for cancer and other diseases.

"We found that immune cells are much more flexible in selecting the nutrient fuels they consume and, importantly, that they prefer some nutrients that were previously dismissed as waste. This understanding is crucial for optimizing T cell responses and developing new strategies for boosting our ability to fight off disease," Russell Jones, PhD, chair of Van Andel Institute's Department of Metabolism and Nutritional Programming and senior author of the study, said in a statement.

In the study, when T cells were presented with glucose, a common sugar found in the body and in lab media, and lactate -- a cellular waste product responsible for muscle aches after a long workout -- they preferentially used the lactate to power energy production. As the researchers noted, lactate is an important byproduct of cancer cells and facilitates their ability to invade other tissues and evade attack by the immune system.

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