Food Chemistry

Immunomodulation by food

Many food ingredients interact with the functioning of our immune system. Such interactions may help to balance and stabilise our immune response, and to mitigate immune-related physical disorders, but may also show an adverse nature, in for instance allergic reactions.

Description of theme

Our immune system plays a pivotal role in the symptomatology of many chronic disorders, such as psoriasis, diabetes type I, Crohn’s disease, asthma or allergic disorders, or in physical complaints associated with obesity.

Modification and balancing such immune responses offers therefore a huge potential for the development of health-promoting food ingredients for specific consumer groups with an immature or defective immune system, such as children or elderly, or those affected by specific immune-related disorders.

Our aim is to utilise immune parameters as a read-out for the development of health-promoting food ingredients or food products. A variety of in vitro and ex vivo read-out systems is, in co-operation with the Cell Biology and Immunology-team from the Animal Sciences Group, available for this purpose.

Current research projects focus on:

  • The identification and the chemical and functional characterisation of food ingredients that can be used to mitigate immune responses in defined immune-related disease processes. In ongoing projects, the focus is currently in particular aimed at the immunomodulatory properties of b-glucans (cell wall fragments from micro organisms) and of fungal immunomodulatory proteins (FIPs), proteins with lectin-like properties
  • Analysing the effect of food matrix components and food processing conditions on the structure and biological functioning of immunomodulatory food ingredients. Currently, in particular allergenic proteins are in the focus of attention.

To achieve such goals, immunomodulatory ingredients are isolated (usually with a variety of chromatographic techniques) and characterised with state-of-the-art analytical techniques. Immunomodulatory properties are characterised by analysing, for instance, the impact of such ingredients, after embedding in a food matrix and/or defined processing steps, in in vitro mimicked inflammation processes or via their effect on the activity of lymphocytes that regulate the immune response.

Research Projects