New role for natural killers

August 27, 2008

Scientists at the University of York have discovered a new role for a population of white blood cells, which may lead to improved treatments for chronic infections and cancer.

Natural Killer (or NK) cells are abundant white blood cells that were recognised over 30 years ago as being able to kill cancer cells in the test tube. Since that time, a role for NK cells in activating other white blood cells (including 'T' lymphocytes and phagocytes) and in directing how the immune system responds to a wide range of infections has also been established.

Because of these properties, NK have been widely regarded as being of benefit in the fight against cancer and infection, and methods to increase NK cell activity underpin a range of new experimental anti-cancer drugs and anti-infectives.

However, a research team in the University's Centre for Immunology and Infection and led by Professor Paul Kaye, has now demonstrated that NK cells also make chemicals that inhibit immune responses.

The research, published in the latest issue of the journal Immunity, has shown that in an experimental model of the tropical disease visceral leishmaniasis, too many NK cells can actually make the disease worse. They have identified that NK cells produce a chemical called interleukin-10 that can counteract many of the otherwise beneficial effects of these cells.

Professor Kaye said: "Other researchers have suggested in the past that NK cells might not always be good for you, but we now have the first direct evidence that this can actually be the case. Although we have worked on an infectious disease, the same is likely to be true for NK cells in cancer. So, in practical terms, it means that we need to consider more carefully exactly how we use therapies that affect NK cells, to maximize their beneficial role."

The new findings also open up the potential of developing new drugs that specifically target the beneficial properties of NK cells, and which leave their inhibitory properties switched off. Conversely, in autoimmune diseases, where the immune system is too active, it may be possible to stimulate NK cells to turn it off.

Source: University of York

Explore further: A new target for neuroblastoma

Related Stories

A new target for neuroblastoma

February 15, 2018
Neuroblastoma, a cancer that starts in nerve tissue outside of the brain, is the third most common cancer in children and accounts for about 15 percent of pediatric cancer-related deaths.

Starving cancer cells of sugar—does it work?

January 26, 2018
Previous research have shown that rapidly dividing cancer cells require higher levels of sugar than healthy cells. This dependency on sugar distinguishes cancer cells from normal cells and is often used as a treatment option ...

Researchers discover new approach to stimulate an immune response against tumor cells

January 30, 2018
New drugs that activate the immune system to target cancer cells have improved the lives of many patients with cancer. However, immunotherapies are not effective in all patients, and the success of these therapies depends ...

New evidence suggests a role for curcumin and related compounds in the treatment of cancer and Alzheimer's disease

January 30, 2018
It has long been believed that curcumin, a component of the golden spice (turmeric), has medicinal properties, but problems with its bioavailability and a lack of understanding of how it works have complicated its use.

Researchers discover a potential new therapeutic strategy for pancreatic cancer

February 2, 2018
In most pancreatic cancer patients, the diagnosis occurs when the disease is already advanced, and currently, there is no effective treatment. There have been no significant advances to combat it in recent decades, and unfortunately, ...

Discovery of the 'pioneer' that opens the genome

January 23, 2018
Our genome contains all the information necessary to form a complete human being. This information, encoded in the genome's DNA, stretches over one to two metres long but still manages to squeeze into a cell about 100 times ...

Recommended for you

Early results from clinical trials not all they're cracked up to be, shows new research

February 21, 2018
When people are suffering from a chronic medical condition, they may place their hope on treatments in clinical trials that show early positive results. However, these results may be grossly exaggerated in more than 1 in ...

Spare parts from small parts: Novel scaffolds to grow muscle

February 20, 2018
Australian biomedical engineers have successfully produced a 3D material that mimics nature to transform cells into muscle.

Clues to obesity's roots found in brain's quality control process

February 20, 2018
Deep in the middle of our heads lies a tiny nub of nerve cells that play a key role in how hungry we feel, how much we eat, and how much weight we gain.

Study looks at how newly discovered gene helps grow blood vessels

February 19, 2018
A new study published today found that a newly discovered gene helps grow blood vessels when it senses inadequate blood flow to tissues.

Scientists produce human intestinal lining that re-creates living tissue inside organ-chip

February 16, 2018
Investigators have demonstrated how cells of a human intestinal lining created outside an individual's body mirror living tissue when placed inside microengineered Intestine-Chips, opening the door to personalized testing ...

Data wave hits health care

February 16, 2018
Technology used by Facebook, Google and Amazon to turn spoken language into text, recognize faces and target advertising could help doctors fight one of the deadliest infections in American hospitals.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.