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Vermont Quarterly

Insight on the Immune System

Professor Eyal Amiel in his lab
Photograph by Sally McCay

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Insight on the Immune System

HEALTH SCIENCES | Researchers have long known that glucose—or sugar—fuels cellular activity, including cells involved in immune response. While previous research focused on sugar stores external to the cell, a surprising discovery led by UVM professor Eyal Amiel finds that dendritic cells—the messengers of the mammalian immune system—draw from sugar stores within the cell. 

Amiel is an assistant professor in the Department of Medical Laboratory and Radiation Science, College of Nursing and Health Sciences. His recent research, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, adds a missing piece to the puzzle of how early immune responses are powered from a metabolic standpoint and provides immunologists with a new area of focus in efforts to regulate immune activity.

“By either enhancing or depleting this sugar warehouse within the cell, the hope would be that we could either influence or dampen immune reactions,” says Amiel, who co-authored the paper with Phyu Thwe, a doctoral student in his lab, and three external researchers. 

“What we’re really in the business of is finding new switches to toggle to that effect, and this finding provides us with a new target that regulates immune activity,” he says. “What’s surprising is that the intracellular sugar pool is the more important one early on. The reason that is so important is because in any kind of immune protection scenario it is absolutely a race against time between the microbe and mammalian immune response.” 

This new knowledge could lead to targeted treatments to increase immune activity in cancer therapy or suppress immune reactions for patients with multiple sclerosis. 

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