Natural Killer Cells Show Promise in Treating Multiple Myeloma

Early trial shows potential of stem cell transplant combined and high-dose chemotherapy.

A new approach to treating multiple myeloma showed promising results in an early clinical trial.

Researchers from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center recently announced results from a first-in-human phase 1 study that combined expanded cord blood-derived natural killer cells with a stem cell transplant and high-dose chemotherapy. This treatment combination showed little to none of the side effects that are found among current treatments.

"Multiple myeloma is an incurable disease thought to be characterized by immune dysregulation and exhaustion, whereby proliferation of malignant plasma cells is not checked by the immune system," said Nina Shah, MD, assistant professor in the department of Stem Cell Transplantation and Cellular Therapy at the MD Anderson Cancer Center. "Long-term remissions in some patients after stem cell transplants from donors have been observed, but treatment-related toxicity limits the widespread use of this therapy."

Natural killer cells travel in the blood stream to attack infections, with the potential to attack cancer-causing cells. These cells are grown from umbilical cord blood through technology developed at MD Anderson.

The researchers enrolled symptomatic patients who are candidates for high-dose chemotherapy drugs such as melphalan, as well as a transplant of a patient's own stem cells.

Of the patients enrolled in the trial, 12 patients were divided into 4 separate groups that each received varying dosage levels of natural killer cells derived from umbilical cord blood.

Ten of the 12 patients previously showed high-risk disease or disease relapse before participating in the study.

"Successful natural killer cell expansion to target dose was achieved in all the patients," Dr. Shah said. "The cell therapy infusion resulted in no toxicity and no occurrences of graft-versus-host disease."