A section of intestinal tissue with mucus-producing cells.

Patricia Barral : Immune Responses to Lipids Laboratory

We are studying the signals that switch on the immune system to fight infections and investigating the impact on health when these processes go wrong.

Cells in the immune system work together to protect the body from diseases by identifying and destroying pathogens such as bacteria, moulds and viruses.

The ways in which immune cells respond to these threats is a tightly controlled process that depends on the different types of immune cell making contact and ‘talking’ to each other in the right way. This ensures that the immune response is only turned on when and where it’s needed, and that immune cells don’t attack healthy tissues in the body.

We want to find out more about the signals that switch on the immune response to infections, focusing on fatty chemicals called lipids that are present naturally in our own cells and also found in harmful pathogens.

We study a specific population of immune cells known as NKT cells, which recognize lipids and are known to be important in fighting bacterial infections. Our lab aims to uncover how, where and when cells of the immune system recognise and respond to lipids, what the outcomes of these responses are, and what the consequences are for human health when these processes go wrong.