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Trinity College scientists discover major link between obesity and how the body fights cancer

Up to 50% of certain cancers are attributed to obesity.

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A TEAM OF scientists at Trinity College Dublin have made a major discovery about why obese people’s immune systems often struggle to fight cancer.

The research, published in the international journal Nature Immunology, sheds light on what until now had been the little-known impact of obesity on immune surveillance.

Over 1.9 billion adults are overweight and obese across the globe, creating health and economic burdens because of knock-on health impacts including type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

As well as this, up to 50% of certain cancers are attributed to obesity.

However, new research led by Associate Professor in Immunology at Trinity College, Lydia Lynch reveals why the body’s immune surveillance systems – led by cancer-fighting ‘natural killer’ cells – stutter and fail in the presence of excess fat.

Working with ‘natural killer’ cells from humans and mice the scientists found that the molecular machinery of these cells get clogged-up by excess fat in obese individuals.

‘Increased urgency’

And while this clogging-up process did not prevent natural killer cells from recognising tumour cells, it was found to prevent the cells from killing tumours.

The research also pinpointed the specific metabolic step that was stifled in the fat-clogged natural killer cells.

That finding offered hope for the development of treatments further down the line, with the scientists able to re-programme these cells and restore their cancer-fighting abilities by providing them with a metabolic jolt.

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Commenting on the research, Professor Lynch said that despite increased public awareness aboutobesity and related diseases, they continued to be prevalent.

“There is increased urgency to understand the pathways whereby obesity cause cancer and leads to other diseases, and to develop new strategies to prevent their progression,” she said.

“Our results highlight immuno-metabolic pathways as a promising target to reverse immune defects in obesity, and suggest that metabolic reprogramming of ‘natural killer’ cells may kick-start their anti-cancer activity and improve treatment outcomes.”

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