Unlocking the Potential: Natural Killer Cells in Cancer Therapy

Introducing Allogeneic Natural Killer Cell Therapy 


Melissa M. Berrien-Elliott, Miriam T. Jacobs, and Todd A. Fehniger present a deep dive into the medical community’s exploration against cancer with their paper on ‘Allogeneic natural killer cell therapy’. As the race to find more effective cancer treatments continues, this paper brings to light the potential of Natural Killer (NK) cells in overshadowing the widely discussed CAR T lymphocyte therapy. 



The Limitations of Current Therapies 


CAR T-cell treatments, despite their initial promise, come with a range of challenges. They are not only expensive but also require weeks to generate. They function on a one-to-one donor-to-patient model and are prone to inconsistencies in production. Added to this, patients face risks of side effects including cytokine release syndrome and immune effector cell-associated neurotoxicity syndrome. The search for a more effective and efficient solution led researchers to NK cells. 


Natural Killer Cells: The Next Frontier 


NK cells stand out due to their innate ability to manage viral infections and eliminate malignant cells without prior sensitization. Their potential is further magnified when considering the diverse sources from which they can be derived, including blood, cord blood, and pluripotent stem cells. Their adaptability to be expanded and cryopreserved allows for an “off-the-shelf” availability, a significant step up from CAR T cells. Clinical trials have already showcased their potential, and the paper delves deep into understanding the biology, development, and potential therapeutic application of these cells. 


The Path Forward 


The treatment horizon for blood cancers is undergoing a transformative shift. NK cells, with their potent capabilities, are stepping up as the new hope. While gene editing accelerates developments in allogeneic NK cell therapies, the challenge of potential rejection by the host’s immune system remains. A combined approach, as suggested in the paper, could be the roadmap to unlocking the full potential of off-the-shelf NK cell therapies in the near future. 



Berrien-Elliott MM, Jacobs MT, Fehniger TA. Allogeneic natural killer cell therapy. Blood. 2023 Feb 23;141(8):856-868. doi: 10.1182/blood.2022016200. PMID: 36416736; PMCID: PMC10023727.