Written by
Wendy Plump
Jan. 29, 2024

Lydia Lynch, a leading immunologist whose work focuses on whole-body metabolism and its impact on the immune system and cancer, has been named a professor in the Department of Molecular Biology and a Member of the Princeton Branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, effective immediately.

Lynch comes to Princeton from her position as associate professor at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts.

“Mol Bio is delighted to welcome Lydia Lynch to our ranks,” said Department Chair Bonnie Bassler, the Squibb Professor in Molecular Biology. “Lydia is a spectacular scientist and the research program she brings to Mol expands and synergizes with our expertise in immunology. She is also obviously a terrific teacher and mentor. All of those features, and others, make her such an excellent hire for Princeton.

“Moreover, Lydia will make important connections between Mol and the new Ludwig Princeton Branch.”

Joshua Rabinowitz, director of Ludwig Princeton and professor in the Department of Chemistry and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, said he met Lynch at a seminar earlier this year and invited her to visit Princeton.

“Lydia is a world-leading immunologist who focuses on how what we eat, and what nutrients are available within tumors, determines the outcome of the battle between the immune system and cancer,” said Rabinowitz. “She’s found that, at least in mice, too much animal fat can disrupt anti-tumor immunity. This finding, while requiring clinical validation, aligns perfectly with our goal to bridge from basic metabolic science to practical dietary guidance for cancer patients.”

The Ludwig Institute established its Branch  at Princeton University in the spring of 2021 to advance the science of cancer metabolism and explore the development of innovative dietary and pharmacological strategies for cancer therapy.

Lynch is the Branch’s second faculty hire, following the appointment in September Michael Skinnider as an assistant member of Ludwig Princeton.

“I visited Princeton with the expectation that I was just giving a seminar because I travel and give seminars regularly,” said Lynch. “But Princeton was different. It was just magic. The university, the people, and the town. It felt like home.

“I am very grateful that I received a free education in Ireland, which somehow led me to Harvard. Now, in coming to Princeton, I want to be useful, to serve the community, students, colleagues, and neighbors as best I can. That this is part of Princeton’s motto is one of the most special things about this move.”

Lynch’s work focuses on the effect of obesity on the immune system and why it is associated with an increased risk for 13 types of cancer, looking specifically at how whole body metabolism provides the nutrients for immune cells.

Scientists, Lynch said, have found that obesogenic diets promote cancer directly by providing fuel to cancerous tumors and also by infringing on the immune system’s ability to kill tumor cells. So, there is hope that changing whole body metabolism through diet, for example, will metabolically reprogram immune cells and tumor cells to counter those effects.

“This is a great match with Ludwig Princeton,” said Lynch. “I love the work the Rabinowitz lab does. Josh is a world leader in metabolic analysis in vivo and this complements our work on what metabolic pathways fuel immune cells. I’m excited about Josh’s vision and leadership of  Ludwig Princeton.

“And with Mol Bio, there’s an amazing range of expertise in molecular biology, evolution and imaging, and the department is very collegial, so I’m really excited about joining Mol Bio, too.”

Through Mol Bio, Lynch will study the evolution of cytokines, a broad group of signaling proteins secreted by immune cells, which have been a part of eukaryote systems for millions of years, even before immune cells appeared.

“If they have been around that long, what did they do before they were produced by the immune system? It looks like they were involved in regulating the metabolism of the organism, connecting host defense with the nervous and metabolic systems. So, we’re trying to understand ‘non-typical’ roles for these classic immune molecules: what else are they doing in the background that we don’t know about?” asked Lynch.

Lynch earned her B.Sc. in 2002 in Cell and Molecular Biology from University College Dublin, Ireland, graduating first in her class. She earned her Ph.D. in Immunology in 2008, also at UCD, under the advisership of Cliona O’Farrelly, and then was named a Newman Scholar under Donal O’ Shea, where she helped establish the Lab of Obesity and Immunology at St. Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin.

Lynch then received a UNESCO-L’Oreal International Women in Science and a Marie Curie International Fellowship to do postdoctoral work concurrently in the labs of Michael Brenner and Uli von Andrian at Harvard, studying innate T cells and immunometabolism. From there, she started her independent lab at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Harvard Medical School.

Read more about Lynch's appointment to the Ludwig Princeton Branch at the Ludwig Cancer Research site.