Illuminating insights into our immune system

The immune system protects us from a host of threats, from harmful bacteria and viruses to cancer and other diseases. One way it does this is by learning and adapting to shield us from new dangers. Unfortunately, pathogens and malignant cells also devise ways to hide from the multitude of soldier-cells who fight to keep us healthy.

Understanding how the immune system works and revealing the ways it interacts with other vital processes is crucial for human health. At Van Andel Institute, we seek to solve big questions at the crossroads of immunology, epigenetics, metabolism and more. Among the questions our scientists seek to answer are:

  • How does metabolism fuel the immune system?
  • How does epigenetic programming affect immune cell function?
  • How is metabolic programming interlinked to regulate immunity?
  • How do changes in metabolism impact cancer’s ability to progress and spread?
  • What role does inflammation play in depression and neurodegenerative diseases?

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By the numbers


  • 25,000 The number of white blood cells in a drop of blood*
  • 1% White blood cells, which combat pathogens and abnormal cells, make up almost 1% of human blood**
  • 5L The human body contains 5 liters of blood and lymph, a critical immune fluid*

VAI scientists who study immunology

Lena Brundin, M.D., Ph.D.

Professor, Department of Neurodegenerative Science

Behavioral Medicine

Brian Haab, Ph.D.

Professor, Department of Cell Biology

Pancreatic Cancer Identification Using Glycans

Connie Krawczyk, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Department of Metabolism and Nutritional Programming

Immunology, Epigenetics and Metabolism

Image of Russell Jones, Ph.D.

Russell Jones, Ph.D.

Chair and Professor, Department of Metabolism and Nutritional Programming

Cancer and Immunometabolism

Recent Publications


*Healthline. 2016. Fun facts about the immune system. https://www.healthline.com/health/cold-flu/fun-facts

**Cleveland Clinic. 2021. Function of White Blood Cells. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/body/21871-white-blood-cells