Defining infection-induced metabolic reprogramming: from cells to systems

Like all cells, our immune cells need energy from the food we eat to do their jobs. It turns out that not all immune cell energy sources are equal — T cells, an important type of immune cell that surveys the body and detects and eliminates infected cells, use multiple kinds of fuel when they are working their hardest. Drs. Russell Jones and Yasmine Belkaid are leading a project to better understand T cells’ preferred fuel sources, uncovering which types of T-cell metabolism are needed for optimal infection-fighting and which types might lead to immune dysfunction. They are also studying the role of diet and the microbiome in T-cell metabolism and function. Their findings could lead to new therapeutic avenues to “reprogram” T cells’ metabolism to improve their infection-fighting abilities. 

Affiliated Investigators

Russell Jones, Ph.D.

Van Andel Institute

Dr. Russell Jones is a leading expert in the study of metabolism and immunology. As professor and chair of the Department of Metabolism and Nutritional Programming at Van Andel Institute, his work seeks to uncover how cancer cells and immune cells fuel themselves through metabolic interactions, with the ultimate goal of developing innovative approaches for immunometabolic therapy.

Formerly the director of the Metabolomics Core Facility at McGill University’s Goodman Cancer Research Centre, Jones moved to Van Andel Institute in 2018 to establish its Metabolism and Nutritional Programming group and build new collaborations. He and his team investigate how cancer cells and immune cells adjust their metabolism in response to extracellular stimuli through signal transduction pathways and epigenetic mechanisms. His research with the Allen Institute and Dr. Yasmine Belkaid of the National Institutes of Health takes this work a step further investigating the impact of systemic pressures, such as infection or diet, as well as untangling the impact of the microbiome.

Dr. Jones has earned numerous accolades throughout his career, including a New Investigator Award from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Bernard and Francine Dorval Prize from the Canadian Cancer Society, and several teaching awards at McGill University. He was named a William Dawson Scholar in 2014 and elected to the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists of the Royal Society of Canada in 2015. He and his team have published more than 90 scientific articles, and his work has been featured in the journals Cell Metabolism, Immunity, Science, Nature Immunology, the Journal of Immunology, and Cell. Jones earned his B.Sc. (biochemistry) and Ph.D. (medical biophysics) from the University of Toronto before completing a postdoctoral fellowship in the lab of Dr. Craig B. Thompson at University of Pennsylvania.

Yasmine Belkaid, Ph.D.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Dr. Yasmine Belkaid is a Distinguished Investigator at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health (Bethesda). She obtained her Ph.D. in 1996 from the Pasteur Institute in France. Following a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institutes of Health (Bethesda) on immune regulation during infection, she started her research program at the Children’s Hospital Research Foundation in Cincinnati. In 2005, she joined the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and was appointed Senior Scientist in 2008. Her laboratory explores fundamental mechanisms that regulate tissue homeostasis and host immune responses and uncovered key roles for the microbiota and dietary factors in the control of immunity and protection to pathogens. Dr. Belkaid also holds an appointment at the University of Pennsylvania and is the co-director of the trans-NIH Center for Human Immunology. She is the founder and Director of the NIAID Microbiome Program. Dr. Belkaid is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the National Academy of Medicine, and is the recipient of numerous awards including the Lurie Prize in Biomedical Sciences, the AAI-Thermo Fisher Meritorious Career Award, the Emil von Behring Prize, and the Sanofi - Institut Pasteur Award.