Williams Cancer Institute

Fasting Reprograms Immune Cells to Combat Cancer

A study from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) has shown that fasting reprograms natural killer (NK) cells of the immune system in mice, enhancing their ability to fight cancer. Published in *Immunity*, this finding suggests that fasting could strengthen the immune response and improve the efficacy of immunotherapy.

Impact of Fasting on NK Cells

Researchers found that 24-hour fasting periods, twice a week, trained NK cells to use fatty acids as an alternative energy source to glucose. This adaptation allows them to survive better in the lipid-rich environment of tumors, optimizing their anti-cancer response.

Metabolic Reprogramming

Fasting caused a redistribution of NK cells within the body, with many traveling to the bone marrow and spleen. In the bone marrow, NK cells were exposed to high levels of Interleukin-12, priming them to produce more Interferon-gamma, a cytokine crucial for tumor suppression. In the spleen, NK cells were reprogrammed to better utilize lipids as an energy source.

Potential for Treatments

These findings open new avenues for improving cancer treatments, such as combining fasting with standard therapies or developing drugs that mimic its effects without requiring fasting. However, more clinical research is needed to fully understand the effects of fasting in cancer patients. Patients should consult their doctors to determine what is safe and appropriate for their specific situation.

Reference: Rebecca B. Delconte et al, June 14, 2024. Fasting primes the immune system’s natural killer cells to better fight cancer, new study in mice finds. https://medicalxpress.com/news/2024-06-fasting-primes-immune-natural-killer.html

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