Study: Immunotherapy Using Young Cells Offers Promising Option Against Cancer

Further, these natural killer (NK) cells appear to be more effective the earlier they are in development, creating the possibility of an immunotherapy that would not use cells from a patient or a matched donor.

A new study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis suggests that the age of certain immune cells used in therapy plays a role in how effective the immunotherapy is. Further, these natural killer (NK) cells appear to be more effective the earlier they are in development, creating the possibility of an immunotherapy that would not use cells from a patient or a matched donor. The cells could be developed from existing supplies of human pluripotent stem cells, according to the study authors.

“We are trying to improve the effectiveness of immunotherapy for more patients,” said senior author Christopher M. Sturgeon, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine, in a press release. “This special source of natural killer cells has the potential to fill some of the gaps remaining with adult NK cell therapy. There is early evidence that they are more consistent in their effectiveness, and we would not need to process cells from a donor or the patient.”

Earlier versions of NK cells do not originate from bone marrow, unlike the adult versions of NK cells used in most investigational therapies. These cells are a short-lived immune cell that form in the yolk sac of the early mammalian embryo. For therapeutic purposes, such cells do not need to originate from embryos and can be developed from human pluripotent stem cells. Human pluripotent stem cells have the ability to give rise to many different cell types, including specialized NK cells, and would be available at a faster pace to cut the time for patient or donor cells, according to the study.

Using mouse and human induced pluripotent stem cells that have been coaxed into forming these unique NK cells, research found that the NK cells are better at releasing specific anti-tumor chemicals, or degranulation, than their adult counterparts. Also, NK cells of adult origin release different chemicals that trigger harmful inflammation, although this response is not necessarily effective against cancer.

According to the researchers, such cells could be produced from existing lines of pluripotent stem cells that would not need to come from a matched donor because NK cells do not heavily attack the body’s healthy tissues as many T cell therapies can. Even when NK cells cause harm, they do not stay in the body for long periods of time, according to the study.

REFERENCE

Strait, Julia E. Immunotherapy using ‘young cells’ offers promising option against cancer. Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. https://medicine.wustl.edu/news/immunotherapy-using-young-cells-offers-promising-option-against-cancer/. Published March 19, 2020. Accessed March 27, 2020.