Natural (Born) Killer Cells Win Battle with Pediatric Leukemia Cells

Published on 
May 5, 2016

Natural killer" cell (green) attacks a leukemia cell (red). Courtesy of Eleanora Heisterkamp,PhD, Jihane Khalife, and Esteban Fernandez, PhD.

Researchers at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles have shown that a select team of immune-system cells from leukemia patients can be multiplied in the lab, creating an army of natural killer cells that can be deployed to destroy the cancer cells. Results of their in vitro study, published in 2014 in the journal Leukemia, may one day provide a less toxic and more effective way to battle this cancer in children.

Using natural killer (NK) cells and ALL cells from the same pediatric patient, researchers led by Nora Heisterkamp, PhD, at The Saban Research Institute of CHLA found that the natural killer cells will destroy that patient’s leukemia cells.

Antibodies are normally made by the cells of the immune system to identify and neutralize foreign material.  Researchers can design and produce antibodies called monoclonal antibodies (mAb) that specifically target a certain protein like those found in cancer cells.  

Heisterkamp showed that mAb targeted to a specific receptor (BAFF-R) on the leukemia cells stimulate the NK cells to attack and kill the cancer.

The results are promising, both as a part of first line therapy, as well as a treatment for eliminating any remaining cancer cells – known as minimal residual disease – following standard chemotherapy.