Autologous NK Cell Immunotherapy

A major goal of our research program is to find a better and safer treatment for cancers, particularly for those for which we have no or very limited treatment options. Our natural immune system protects us from growth of cancerous cells. One of the most important innate cell types responsible for natural defense against cancer cells is the natural killer (NK) cell. These cells have an innate ability to kill tumor cells. When cancer cells evade NK cell-mediated destruction, the result is tumor formation. Established tumors can not only reduce NK cell numbers but also significantly inhibit their function, further hindering the immune system’s ability to eliminate the tumor. Therefore, finding a method to increase the number and function of NK cells in cancer patients could provide a safe and effective cancer treatment, particularly for cancers where limited treatment options are available, such as triple negative breast cancers and lung cancers.

Critical to improving the activity of the innate immune system is having large numbers of sufficiently activated NK cells which are capable of killing cancer cells. Our laboratory is now able to generate large numbers of NK cells from a small amount of blood collected from cancer patients. Furthermore, we can stimulate these cells through unique protocols to produce highly active cancer killing NK cells. Therefore, it is possible that if these highly active NK cells from a cancer patient were injected back into the same patient (termed autologous NK cell therapy), cancers could be cleared, returning the individual to a healthy lifestyle. Recognizing the potential of NK cells as a cancer therapeutic, the immediate goal of our laboratory is to push autologous NK cell therapies into clinical trials.