ORLANDO, Fla. — Scientists describe them as assassins in the human body.
They are the natural “killer cells” that can eliminate malignant, or dangerous ones.
And doctors are finding new ways to use the “good” cells to attack the “bad” ones.
Cancer researcher Alicja Copik developed an immunity-boosting technology that stimulates natural killer cells to increase in number and fight malignant cells while leaving healthy cells intact.
“Initially we started with leukemia, acute myeloid leukemia, and we found that the cells work very well,” said Copik, an immunologist at the University of Central Florida College of Medicine.
Natural killer cells are a type of lymphocyte or white blood cell and a component of the immune system.
“These cells have evolved for zillions of years to recognize and kill viruses so there is a lot of evolution that made them good and they do not just kill one virus, but multiple viruses,” she explained.
“They are natural, but of course, we need to have a way to use them therapeutically and now we are at the point where that might be possible.”
The cells play a major role in the rejection of both tumors and virally infected cells.
Scientists have tested the cells in vitro on other types of cancer, including solid tumors.
“I think they are an amazing cell type that has huge potential for the future treatment of cancer and potential viral diseases,” explained Copik.
“So, we are excited. This is just the start of the journey because there is much more we can do, and these cells can do for us.”
Now, Kiadis Pharma is testing Copik’s developed technology to see if natural killer cells will enhance the immune system to protect against viruses, like the coronavirus.