Julian Lum is an immunologist who received a $1.08 million grant to study the relation between sugar, new immune cells and cancer (file contributed/ UVic)

UVic researcher gets $1.08 million to study the link between sugar, immune cells and cancer

Julian Lum will lead a study to see how a person’s diet can strengthen their immune cells

A University of Victoria researcher received a $1.08 million grant from the Canadian Institute of Health Research to study the connection between nutrition, immune cells and cancer.

Julian Lum is a UVic immunologist and a scientist the BC Cancer’s Deeley Research Centre. A new study he is leading will look at how new immune cells, known as T cells, and cancer cells each use glucose to grow.

His team will research a new type of immunotherapy that uses a patient’s diet as a way of engineering natural immune cells to fight cancer, a process known as chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-therapy.

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“The cancer and immune cells are constantly in this fight for nutrients,” Lum said. “We are the only academic team in Canada approaching the problem by studying this nutritional arms race to make CAR T-cells more nutritionally fit, thus tipping the balance of power away from the cancer cells and in the favour of immune cells.”

Lum noted that in the past century the number of people diagnosed with cancer has spiked, with a main culprit being a highly processed diet full of sugar and carbohydrates. Changes in diet impact the metabolism and immune system function, which changes how the human body can respond to and fight serious illness like cancer.

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CAR T-cell therapy allows the body’s immune cells to detect and eliminate cancer, and has been effective in treating leukemia and some kinds of lymphoma, but less effective in other kinds of cancer like prostate, breast and ovarian cancer.

Researchers hope that by studying the link between nutrition and immune cell function that CAR T-cells can be better used to treat a wider range of cancers.

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