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Obesity causes body’s ‘natural cancer killer cells’ to fail, say researchers

Excess fat causes the body’s cancer-fighting “natural killer cells” to fail, explaining the link between obesity and cancer, researchers have said.

Researchers at Trinity College Dublin worked with natural killer cells from humans – as well as using mice – found that when these cells become clogged with fat, they are prevented from killing tumour cells although they can still recognise them.

The research, which has just been published in the journal Nature Immunology, shows there are possible new cancer treatment strategies where fat-clogged natural killer cells could be reprogrammed back into functionality by being given a metabolic jolt.

The research was led by associate professor in Immunology at Trinity College Dublin, Lydia Lynch.

Professor Lynch said: “Despite increased public awareness, the prevalence of obesity and related diseases continue. Therefore, there is increased urgency to understand the pathways whereby obesity causes cancer and leads to other diseases, and to develop new strategies to prevent their progression.

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.”