Assoc Prof Andy Hogan of Maynooth University is involved in several studies at this year’s ECO. One, on natural killer cells, obesity and cancer, has just been published in the journal Obesity. Here Andy tells us about this study and his career.
Q: Welcome to ECO Andy, for those who don’t know you can you tell us where you are based and your area of specialty.
A. I am an Associate Professor of Immunology at Maynooth University, which is in Kildare. Here I am the scientific lead with the Obesity Immunology Research Group in partnership with clinical lead Prof Donal O’Shea. Our group is based across 3 institutes including Maynooth University, St Vincent’s University Hospital and the National Children’s Research Centre. Our research focuses on the impact of obesity on the immune system and the development of co-morbidities.
Q How did you first become interested in obesity research?
A: After completing my PhD studies in cellular immunology, I was appointed as a Newman Fellow in Obesity under the supervision of Prof Donal O’Shea. Prof O’Shea & Dr Lydia Lynch had just identified a novel subset of immune system in human adipose tissue. This novel subset had been the focus of my PhD. Once I started researching obesity, I quickly realised the major link between obesity and associated diseases like type 2 diabetes and cancer was immune dysregulation, and that as an immunologist it was an area that needed extensive research and matched my training.
Q: You are involved in several studies at this year’s congress, however your presentation on Saturday, AD14.04 Natural killer cells in children & adults with obesity, from dysregulation to restoration’, and the publication in Obesity, has already generated headlines. What gave you the idea to do this study?
A: Our group has a long-standing interest on impact of obesity on NK cells – having previously reported that obesity renders these professional killers defective – and in mouse models results in accelerated tumour growth. So we asked if GLP-1 therapy could restore NK cells function & if so how.
Q: What exactly are natural killer cells, and what do they do?
A: NK cells are a subset of immune cells which are tasked with killing. As professional killers they protect us from virally infected cells and transformed cancerous cells – they can do this rapidly by killing their target cell and also initiating a broader immune response.
Q: You found that Glucagon-like peptide (GLP-1) analogues, can actually restore the natural killer cell function in the body including its ability to kill cancerous cell – does this potentially mean such treatments could have an effect on the prevalence of obesity-related cancers long-term? Are future studies going to monitor this?
A: This we don’t know at this point but having better functioning NK cells can only be a benefit to our patients – we are starting pre-clinical models to provide supporting evidence but it will take time for these data to emerge
Q: In another study presented this year AD01.04 ‘The Effect of Treatment with a Glucagon-like-peptide-1 Analogue on Metabolic Activity in Adipose Tissue: data from a proof-of-concept PET-CT study’ you discuss that upregulation of thermogenesis could be part of the mechanism of action of these medications – is this in addition to them increasing feelings of fullness / satiety?
A: We previously demonstrated that GLP analogues switched on thermogenic programming in mice – however it was unclear if this happened in humans – in the presented study, we demonstrate increased metabolic activity in visceral adipose tissue in patients treated with GLP using PET scans and confirm elevated thermogenic markers in human adipose tissue treated with GLP.
Q What other studies are you involved in at the moment (and please can you present them at ECO2024!)
A: We have a couple of very exciting studies on-going in both childhood and adult obesity – too early to say too much, but we would be very keen to share at ECO2024!
Q What are some of the sessions that have caught your eye in this year’s program?
A: Looking forward to the mitochondria & inflammation sessions!
Thanks Andy and have a good congress!