Sue Tsai

Assistant Professor, Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry - Medical Microbiology and Immunology Dept


Assistant Professor, Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry - Medical Microbiology and Immunology Dept
(780) 492-4070


Area of Study / Keywords

Type 1 Diabetes Insulin Resistance Adaptive Immunity Immunometabolism Mechanoimmunology


I am a newly recruited assistant professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, since 2019.  I got my PhD degree in the laboratory of Dr. Pere Santamaria, where I studied T cell development and tolerance using the autoimmune type 1 diabetes (T1D) model.  My PhD work also led to the "curing" of mouse T1D, that hopefully will help human T1D patients one day.  During my postdoctoral training with Dr. Daniel Winer at the University Health Network, Toronto, I became interested in the understanding how adaptive immunity impacts whole body metabolism during obesity, and how it is reciprocally affected by the nutritional, hormonal, and inflammatory imbalance that accompanies obesity.  Since then, I embarked on an exciting research journey to explore the interconnection between metabolism and the immune response. My lab was established with generous help from the University of Alberta Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, and the Alberta Diabetes Institute.  We are conveniently located right next to the Flow Cytometry Facility on the 6th floor of HMRC.

Grad student positions are available!  If you are interested in joining my team, please send a copy of your transcript and resume to


Obesity has reached pandemic proportions worldwide, inflicting an astonishing 12 percent of the global population. Obesity predisposes to insulin resistance (IR) with associated hyperinsulimemia and risk for type 2 diabetes. In addition, obesity is linked to increased risks of cardiac disease and cancer, as well as a number of other immune-mediated diseases and complications.  In carrying out immunological research relevant to obesity and IR, two important and interrelated questions that we ask are: 

"How do obesity and associated metabolic alterations affect immune function?"  and

"How can we tweak a misbehaving immune response and improve immune function?"

We apply these questions to different scenarios where generation of a protective immune response is important, such as during an infection, or in anti-tumor immunity or autoimmunity.  We use genetic and diet induced obesity preclinical models to better understand the mechanisms underlying a dysregulated immune response seen in obese individuals, which we believe to be the root cause of numerous immune mediated comorbidities that accompany obesity and insulin resistance. 

Understanding the mechanisms underlying obesity-associated immune dysfunction will help us come up with new immunotherapeutic modalities, potentially involving diet, exercise, or with the use of pharmacological agents.  One of the approaches we will follow involves screening chemical and biological compound libraries for metabolic activity and administering the "hits" in a disease or vaccine model to test for efficacy. 

Like all other cells in the body, immune cells metabolize nutrients and use them as a source of energy and biomolecular building blocks. Modulating immune cell metabolism can thus be a powerful approach to boost or dampen immune responses in various disease and health scenarios.

Featured Publications

She Y., Wang K., Makarowski A., Mangat R., Tsai S., Willing B.P., Proctor S.D., Richard C.

Frontiers in Nutrition. 2022 June; 9 10.3389/fnut.2022.923120

Lee M., Chu K., Chakraborty M., Kotoulas N., Akbari M., Goh C., Clemente-Casares X., Winer D.A., Shrestha A., Tsai S.

STAR Protocols. 2022 June; 3 (2) 10.1016/j.xpro.2022.101233

Tibaes J.R.B., Azarcoya-Barrera J., Wollin B., Veida-Silva H., Makarowski A., Vine D., Tsai S., Jacobs R., Richard C.

JOURNAL OF NUTRITION. 2022 May; 152 (5):1347-1357 10.1093/jn/nxac024

She Y., Mangat R., Tsai S., Proctor S.D., Richard C.

Frontiers in Nutrition. 2022 February; 9 10.3389/fnut.2022.840209

Chakraborty M., Chu K., Shrestha A., Revelo X.S., Zhang X., Gold M.J., Khan S., Lee M., Huang C., Akbari M., Barrow F., Chan Y.T., Lei H., Kotoulas N.K., Jovel J., Pastrello C., Kotlyar M., Goh C., Michelakis E., Clemente-Casares X., Ohashi P.S., Engleman E.G., Winer S., Jurisica I., Tsai S., Winer D.A.

Cell Reports. 2021 January; 34 (2) 10.1016/j.celrep.2020.108609