The immune system is a fascinating organisation of different cell types that migrate throughout the body. These cells interact to protect our health, through the complex balance of health and disease. We are also partnering to understand the interaction between nutrition and the immune system.
PROTECTING OUR BODIES
Immune cells, in interaction with other cells and molecules, are essential for preventing or eliminating infections, for suppressing the growth of harmful cells, and for the initiation of the repair of damaged tissues. Another key responsibility of the immune system is to downregulate immune reactions against external ‘safe’ triggers such as food and our own tissues. This unique ability of the immune system to differentiate between self and non-self might sometimes go wrong. It can result in an adverse immune response against a normally harmless (food) protein, resulting in allergies. Different disease states including allergies, obesity and brain disorders are impacted by a disruption in the immune system’s delicate balance. The World University Network and the WHO stated that there is an essential need for new concepts aimed at better preventive protocols for our ‘modern’ diseases such as immune related, brain and metabolic disorders. In addition the WAO (World Allergy Organisation, Milan 2013) stated: “the development of new concepts for allergy prevention should receive the highest priority in terms of research investments”.
A significant part of the immune system is located in the gastrointestinal tract, which is a major entrance for pathogens, toxins and allergens. One of the fascinating roles of the immune system in the gastrointestinal tract is to distinguish between safe food and health hazards.
This unique ability of the immune system to differentiate between self and non-self might sometimes go wrong
NUTRITION AND THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
Interestingly, good early nutrition already trains the immune system during pregnancy, highly influencing disease outcome. Our immunology experts focus on dietary interventions in their research programmes, which are designed to prevent and treat immune related disorders. We pay special attention to allergy prevention and treatment and in recent years increasingly to the link between obesity and brain disorders.
Understanding the mechanisms of interaction between nutrition and the immune system is crucial for developing innovative food concepts. To face this challenge, our immunology experts collaborate extensively with both national and international academic partners. All studies are performed according to the principles of translational research; from basic science to development of products aimed at maintaining and improving overall health and well-being. We use a range of research tools, from preclinical studies to proof of concept and multicentre clinical studies.