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Health research

´Love handles´ contain a anti-tumour immune cell which protects against obesity

A Marie Curie research Fellow has uncovered a potential ally in the fight against obesity, together with a team of international researchers. The ally, found in our ´love handles´, is a type of anti-tumour immune cell which protects against obesity and the metabolic syndrome that leads to diabetes.

Their results indicate that the invariant natural killer T-cells (iNKT) – which are vital for immunity – are lost when humans become obese, but can be restored through weight loss. As a result of their discovery they were able to show that therapies that activate iNKT cells could help manage obesity, diabetes and metabolic disease. Their results were published in the journal Immunity. 

Obesity is a growing concern in the European Union. Statistics show that 10-30 % of adults are affected by obesity while 30-70 % are overweight. Meanwhile, the number of overweight babies and children in the World Health Organization (WHO) European Region rose steadily from 1990 to 2008; 60 % of children who are overweight before puberty will be overweight in early adulthood.

Childhood obesity has been associated with health risk factors for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, orthopaedic problems, mental disorders, underachievement in school and lower self-esteem. Statistics like these highlight the importance of research into ways of combating obesity.

As a result of research conducted by Marie Curie Fellow Dr Lydia Lynch at Trinity College Dublin, Consultant Endocrinologist at St Vincent´s University Hospital Professor Donal O´Shea, and Trinity´s Professor of Comparative Immunology Cliona O´Farrelly, iNKT cells have been discovered in human omental fat, which up until now had been considered rare in humans. Omental fat is the layer of tissue that lies underneath the muscles in the stomach – commonly referred to as the beer gut or love handles.

This was not their only discovery. They also found that a lipid called alpha-galactosylceramide (aGC) can lead to a dramatic improvement in metabolism, weight loss and fatty liver disease, as well as reversing diabetes by bolstering cells that have been depleted.

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