University of Victoria immunologist Julian Lum works in his lab at the Deeley Research Centre in Victoria. Lum is the recipient of a $1.08 million grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Photo courtesy UVic.

University of Victoria immunologist Julian Lum works in his lab at the Deeley Research Centre in Victoria. Lum is the recipient of a $1.08 million grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Photo courtesy UVic.

Scientists say our immune cells and cancer cells both need glucose to grow, and University of Victoria researchers are working to tip the scales.

UVic scientists, led by immunologist Julian Lum, are researching how the body processes sugar for a new type of immunotherapy that factors a patient’s diet to engineer natural immune cells, or T-cells, to fight cancer.

Lum says it is crucial in designing one-of-a-kind treatments to fight the disease.

“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 said in a release.

Chimeric antigen receptor, or CAR T-cell therapy, is a process that enhances immune cells and gives them more ability to detect and destroy cancer.

The process has been successful to treat leukemia and some types of lymphona but has been less effective in battles against other forms such as prostate, breast and ovarian cancer.

Researchers will study the link between nutrition and immune cell function, with an aim to help doctors treat a wider range of cancers with improved CAR T-cell behaviour.

They hope this leads to treatment options based on a patient’s own diet and genetic makeup.

Lum said one of the main culprits in an increase of people diagnosed with cancer in the past century is from highly processed diets, full of sugar and carbohydrates.

Researchers say changes in diet impact metabolism and immune system function, changing how the body can respond to serious illness.

Lum, a scientist with BC Cancer’s Deeley Research Centre in Victoria, received a $1.08 million grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

CHEK