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A number of strands of immunometabolism research are being pursued in Oxford, reflecting strengths in both immunological and metabolic sciences.

Lymphocytes in the blood © Juan Gaertner, Shutterstock

Metabolic conditions have an immunological and/or inflammatory component, and conversely, it is becoming clear that metabolic changes are important for many aspects of immune cell function.

Researchers are studying the role of the immune system in type 1 diabetes and in particular, loss of immune tolerance to pancreatic beta cells and how immune components may be targeted for therapy. Other groups are interested in understanding how activation of specific metabolic programmes in immune cells is crucial to ensuring that the cells can carry out their function. The link between autophagy as a means of adapting the cellular availability of biomolecules, metabolic pathways, and immune cell differentiation is being investigated, in particular in the context of haematopoietic differentiation. 

Chronic inflammation is a key feature of metabolic conditions such as diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease, and researchers at Oxford are exploring the role of immune cells including macrophages in this process. Groups are investigating how immune cells are activated in these diseases and the signaling pathways connecting changes in metabolism to inflammation. 

Another line of immunometabolism research being pursued at Oxford is the link between host metabolic state and pathogenicity of infections. People with diabetes have an increased risk of developing meliodosis, a tropical disease caused by the intracellular pathogenic bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei. Researchers are keen to understand how metabolic dysfunction may have a role in impaired immunity to such pathogens and are investigating the metabolic environment in immune cells and the possibility of manipulating this to enhance immune responses.

A major contributor to the human metabolome is the gut microbiome. Oxford is a leading centre for research on the relationship between the intestinal microbiota and the host immune system and how this breaks down in many diseases. The Oxford Centre for Microbiome Studies at the Kennedy Institute provides a hub for microbiome science across Oxford and works with a diverse range of researchers to associate microbiome description with function.

Immunological expertise and platforms are accessible to researchers across the university and beyond through the BRC-supported Human Immune Discovery Initiative (HIDI). HIDI offers multiple discovery platforms and includes a range of technologies and facilities such as immune cell phenotyping, immune imaging, cellular screening and a monoclonal antibody facility.