Researchers makes 'natural born killer' cell discovery

August 31, 2017
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

An unexpected role for a white blood cell called the Natural Killer (NK) cell - a critical cell for ridding the body of infection and cancer, has been discovered by researchers at New Zealand's University of Otago.

The NK cell is a "vigilante" killer - a white blood cell that destroys invaders and through a process of "identity card" checking.The researchers' new work shows that violent vigilante NK cells act as to start up the immune response.

Otago Associate Professor Alex McLellan says NK cells patrol the body and destroy , especially infected or cancer cells. NK cells closely examine the surface of all cells and look for molecules that are present on .

"Certain molecules act like identity cards, and NK cell are vigilantes, ready to respond if they don't see an ID card on cells. During infections or with cancer, the absence of these molecules triggers the NK cells to destroy the cells," says Associate Professor McLellan.

Dr Sarah Saunderson and Associate Professor McLellan, who both work in Otago's Department of Microbiology and Immunology, have identified a new way that NK cells act during infections or cancer.

"A few years' ago we showed that NK cells were required for the vaccination response against cancer." The group has now recognised that NK cells enhance the ability of the immune system to recognise fragments of tumour cells released into the blood," says Associate Professor McLellan.

These fragments induce potent immune responses against cancer, he says.

"Our new work shows that NK cells are absolutely critical for the immune activity of these cell fragments."

These latest findings also explain how such potent immune responses arise against cell fragments.

"This work also reveals new ways that NK cells help the immune system, aside from in their rather violent vigilante role."

The group is currently looking at ways to improve NK cell function through living vaccines and growth factors to enhance the immune response to cancer.

Explore further: Bacteria may assist the immune system response against cancer

More information: Sarah C. Saunderson et al, Role of Lymphocyte Subsets in the Immune Response to Primary B Cell–Derived Exosomes, The Journal of Immunology (2017). DOI: 10.4049/jimmunol.1601537

Related Stories

Bacteria may assist the immune system response against cancer

March 3, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—Recent research from the University of Otago shows that bacteria may assist the body's immune system response against cancer cells and help fight tumours like melanoma.

New way found to boost immunity in fight cancer and infections

July 19, 2017
An international research team led by Université de Montréal medical professor Christopher Rudd, director of research in immunology and cell therapy at Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital Research Centre, has identified a key ...

Cell mechanism discovery could lead to 'fundamental' change in leukaemia treatment

July 27, 2017
Researchers have identified a new cell mechanism that could lead to a fundamental change in the diagnosis and treatment of leukaemia.

Tumor-trained T cells go on patrol

May 15, 2017
'Tumour-trained' immune cells - which have the potential to kill cancer cells - have been seen moving from one tumour to another for the first time. The new findings, which were uncovered by scientists at Australia's Garvan ...

Harnessing the 'Natural Killer' within us to fight cancer

May 23, 2016
Our bodies are constantly and successfully fighting off the development of cells that lead to tumours - but when there is disruption to this process cancer is free to develop.

Discovery brings cancer immune therapies a step closer

February 5, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—The development of new therapies to enhance the body's immune response to cancer is much closer after University of Otago scientists identified a pathway that alters the immune response in the spleen and ...

Recommended for you

Exposure to pet and pest allergens during infancy linked to reduced asthma risk

September 19, 2017
Children exposed to high indoor levels of pet or pest allergens during infancy have a lower risk of developing asthma by 7 years of age, new research supported by the National Institutes of Health reveals. The findings, published ...

MicroRNA helps cancer evade immune system

September 18, 2017
The immune system automatically destroys dysfunctional cells such as cancer cells, but cancerous tumors often survive nonetheless. A new study by Salk scientists shows one method by which fast-growing tumors evade anti-tumor ...

'Exciting' discovery on path to develop new type of vaccine to treat global viruses

September 15, 2017
Scientists at the University of Southampton have made a significant discovery in efforts to develop a vaccine against Zika, dengue and Hepatitis C viruses that affect millions of people around the world.

Regular exercise, stress can both make a big difference in lupus, study finds

September 13, 2017
Waking up in the morning with the joint pain, swelling and stiffness that accompanies lupus doesn't exactly inspire a workout.

New research shows asthma drug's effectiveness over usual care alone

September 13, 2017
A new study co-authored by the University of Plymouth and published in The Lancet shows how an asthma drug was more effective at improving a patient's asthma control compared with their usual care.

Study reveals new clues to how a successful HIV vaccine could work

September 12, 2017
Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have made a discovery that could speed efforts to develop a successful HIV vaccine.

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.