A new type of immunotherapy showed promising results in a small trial done by the MD Anderson Cancer Center. The researchers used an immune cell called a Natural Killer (NK) cell. The NK cells were genetically altered to recognize a protein found on the surface of B cells, a type of immune cell. The patients all had a cancer of their B cells. If the altered NK cells were able to recognize and kill the targeted B cells, the researchers hoped to help the patients. A total of 11 patients were in the trial and 8 of them responded positively. A few of the patients even had a complete response - after treatment, there was little or no sign of the cancer.
Currently approved immunotherapies rely on obtaining blood from the patient and genetically modifying the cancer killing cells to fit the patient’s needs. This is a time-consuming and costly process. A major difference in this new trial is that the NK cells are obtained from donated umbilical cords. Because of the way NK cells recognize targets, they can be used in any patient. This would make it much faster and less expensive than existing treatments. If the results are confirmed in more patients, NK cells could become a true “off-the-shelf” immunotherapy treatment.