What are Natural Killer cells?

About Natural Killer cells and immunotherapy

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Natural Killer (NK) cells arise from blood forming stem cells and are an important part of the innate immune system. 

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Circa 5-10% of the lymphocytes in human blood are Natural Killer (NK) cells. NK cells have a broad spectrum of action. Their activation is triggered by a changed balance between activating and inhibitory cellular signals that are deviating from homeostasis. NK cells have the capability to control viral infections, and target and kill cancer and senescent cells specifically.

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NK-cells offer the body an additional immune rescue package. By supplementing externally generated NK-cells residual disease after intensive anti-cancer treatment can be overcome. NK cells can be used as standalone and add-on therapy allowing multiple treatment options. Allogeneic (partial mismatch) approach provides an excellent basis for effective treatment. 


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In allogeneic stem cell transplantation (allo-SCT), NK cells have shown to mediate graft-versus-leukemia (GVL) immunity towards recipient tumor cells without attacking recipients normal tissues, which would otherwise lead to graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). This definitely makes NK cell based immunotherapy an attractive adjuvant therapy for treatment of leukemia and other malignancies either alone or in combination with antibodies and tumor sensitizing drugs.