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Van Andel Institute researcher studying metabolism's role in fighting cancer

Your metabolism may play a role in killing cancer cells.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Cancer research at the Van Andel Institute has received a financial boost from a prestigious foundation. 

McLane Watson is a post-doctoral Fellow at the V-A-I and one of 14 scientists in the United States selected to receive money from the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation.  

Watson received more than $250,000 to study how metabolism fuels t-cells which protect the body from infection and also help fight cancer. 

Currently, there are immunotherapies that help make t-cells more effective, but they don't work for everyone. Watson hopes his research will help change that.

"So it's not just one thing. It's more like how we can understand the t-cell better so that we can tinker around with it to make it work in a bunch of different situations."

Credit: Van Andel Institute
McLane Watson is a Post-Doctoral Scholar at the Van Andel Institute

Dr. Watson believes metabolism affects CD8 T cell function by altering how tightly its DNA is packaged.

"I'm more focused on how T cells fuel themselves, and how that fuel can enhance their function," said Watson. 

"They're the same cells that clear a virus or bacteria anytime you get sick. They're the ones that are very specific, the specialized killers and they will also kill cancer cells. So, if you don't have good functioning CD8 T cells, then you have poor immune outcomes, and the tumor will grow. But if you have really good CD8 T cells, that lowers tumor growth."

Watson says he first became interested in research in high school when a science teacher offered a specialized class in biotechnology. He said he also has a personal reason for pursuing a cure. 

Watson's two grandmothers passed away from cancer and his mom recently beat breast cancer. 

Watson says he's grateful to the Damon Runyon Cancer Foundation for choosing him from nearly 100 applicants.  

A total of 14 scientists received funding. 

"It will definitely help. Selfishly in my own career, but also help the Van Andel Institute. I think Grand Rapids as a whole, just bringing recognition that we have very life-changing, bold science happening right here in West Michigan."

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