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Nutritional immunology in health and disease

Researchers in NICHE conduct fundamental research which assess changes in markers of immune function associated with normal physiological and pathological disease processes.

The human immune system functions to protect the body against foreign pathogens, preventing infection and disease. Optimal functioning of the immune system, both innate and adaptive immunity is strongly influenced by an individual's nutritional status, with malnutrition being the most common cause of immunodeficiency in the world.

Nutrient deficiencies result in immunosuppression and dysregulation of the immune response including impairment of phagocyte function and cytokine production, as well as adversely affecting aspects of humoral and cell-mediated immunity.

Such alterations in immune function and the resulting inflammation are not only associated with infection, but also with the development of chronic diseases including cancer, autoimmune disease, osteoporosis, disorders of the endocrine system and cardiovascular disease. The majority of research to date in nutritional immunology has focused on nutrient deficiency albeit recent research has shown that sub-optimal nutritional status can also impair immune function and warrants investigation.

We investigate the complex relationship between specific nutrients and immune function using in vivo and in vitro techniques as well as carrying out human intervention studies using participants from healthy populations, at-risk groups and clinical populations.

Research conducted by the group has investigated the effects of micronutrients on cancer development and metastasis, autoimmune disease, osteoporosis, endocrine disorders and cardiovascular disease.

Nutrients currently under investigation by this group include:

  • fatty acids
  • complex carbohydrates
  • vitamin D
  • vitamin E
  • selenium
  • iodine
  • zinc
  • iron
  • polyphenols
  • soy isoflavones.

Please contact Emeir McSorley for more information.