Generating large numbers of universal immune cells could transform cancer immunotherapy

May 16, 2018, Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), Singapore
Generating large numbers of universal immune cells could transform cancer immunotherapy
A novel method to generate natural killer cells from peripheral blood cell-derived stem cells may transform immunotherapies for different cancers. Credit: A*STAR Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology 

A scalable method of generating universal 'off-the-shelf' natural killer (NK) cells for cancer immunotherapies has been devised by A*STAR researchers. Their technique could ensure that future NK cell-based cancer treatments can be used for most patients.

NK cells are a group of small from the innate immune system that help kill virus-infected cells and malignant cancer cells. Scientists can harvest NK cells and use them to directly target cancer cells. However, existing techniques generate limited numbers of NK cells from selected donors that are suitable for specific patients only.

"Current donor-dependent NK cell harvesting methods carry the risk of graft-versus-host disease, because traces of other cells and molecules from donors that are mixed in with the NK cells can react to patients' . This can limit the use of therapies considerably," says Shu Wang at the A*STAR Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, who led the study. "We wanted to devise a new method of generating large numbers of pure, universally-suitable NK cells that could widen the use of such immunotherapies."

The team needed a readily available, sustainable and non-controversial source of stem cells from which they could derive massive numbers of NK cells. So they used to generate induced human pluripotent , iPSCs, which can differentiate into every type of cell in the body, including NK cells. This is the first time peripheral blood cell-derived iPSCs have been used to generate NK cells.

Wang's team designed a new protocol to derive NK cells from iPSCs, with a focus on robustness and scalability. They co-cultured iPSCs with bone marrow connective tissue cells—these activate the signaling processes needed for cell differentiation and commitment to a specific cell type, which resulted in large yields of NK cells.

"An unexpected bonus of our protocol was that most derived NK cells were free of a particular group of inhibitory receptor proteins that can limit universal application in patients," says Jieming Zeng, the first author of the study. "This means that we may now have an invaluable cell source for a wider group of patients."

Scaling up the manufacture of NK cells will require considerable further investment, particularly with its reliance on the connective tissue cell lines that may prove expensive to provide in the form of cell banks. The team will continue to streamline their technique, and believe the breakthrough will inform the development of universal 'off-the-shelf' cancer treatments.

Explore further: Stem cells from adults function just as well as those from embryos

More information: Jieming Zeng et al. Generation of "Off-the-Shelf" Natural Killer Cells from Peripheral Blood Cell-Derived Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells, Stem Cell Reports (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.stemcr.2017.10.020

Related Stories

Stem cells from adults function just as well as those from embryos

April 24, 2018
Donor age does not appear to influence the functionality of stem cells derived from adult body tissues, concludes a new review. The analysis of research on induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) finds that not only are typical ...

Stem cell vaccine immunizes lab mice against multiple cancers

February 15, 2018
Stanford University researchers report that injecting mice with inactivated induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) launched a strong immune response against breast, lung, and skin cancers. The vaccine also prevented relapses ...

Recommended for you

Revealing the molecular mystery of human liver cells

October 22, 2018
A map of the cells in the human liver has been created by University Health Network Transplant Program and University of Toronto researchers, revealing for the first time differences between individual cells at the molecular ...

New tool gives deeper understanding of glioblastoma

October 22, 2018
Researchers in the lab of Charles Danko at the Baker Institute for Animal Health have developed a new tool to study genetic "switches" active in glioblastoma tumors that drive growth of the cancer. In a new paper in Nature ...

RNA thought to spread cancer shows ability to suppress breast cancer metastasis

October 22, 2018
Researchers at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center have discovered that a form of RNA called metastasis-associated lung adenocarcinoma transcript 1 (MALAT1) appears to suppress breast cancer metastasis in mice, ...

Targeting a hunger hormone to treat obesity

October 22, 2018
About 64 per cent of Canadian adults are overweight or obese, according to Health Canada. That's a problem, because obesity promotes the emergence of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

New drug combination destroys chemo-resistant blood cancer

October 22, 2018
Researchers from The Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa have developed a promising targeted strategy to treat chemotherapy-resistant acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and a diagnostic test to determine which AML patients ...

Major trial shows targeted drug extends breast cancer survival

October 22, 2018
Combining a targeted drug with hormone therapy substantially extends survival for women with advanced breast cancer, a major clinical trial has found.

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.