Therapeutic applications: natural killer cells in the clinic

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74 Scopus citations


Natural killer (NK) cells recognize targets stressed by malignant transformation or infection (particularly CMV). We now know that NK cells can be long-lived and remember past exposures. They become educated by interaction with MHC class I molecules to gain potent function to kill targets and produce cytokines. In the clinical setting, haploidentical NK cells can be transferred adoptively to treat cancer. Persistence and in vivo expansion of NK cells depends on lymphodepleting chemotherapy to make space for the release of endogenous IL-15. In vivo expansion is also enhanced by cytokine administration. IL-2 has been used at low doses to stimulate NK cells in vivo, but has the down side of stimulating CD25hi regulatory T cells. IL-15 is now being tested and has the advantage of avoiding inhibitory regulatory T cell stimulation. In refractory acute myeloid leukemia, leukemia clearance is correlated with the persistence and in vivo expansion of NK cells after adoptive transfer. Limitations to NK cell therapy include poor in vivo survival and lack of specificity. Monoclonal antibodies and bispecific or trispecific killer engagers to target CD16 on NK cells to enhance recognition of various tumor antigens and ADAM17 inhibition to prevent CD16 shedding after NK cell activation should promote enhanced killing of cancer with specificity. Future strategies to exploit favorable donor immunogenetics or to expand NK cells ex vivo from blood, progenitors, or pluripotent progenitors may overcome immune barriers of adoptive transfer and comparative clinical trials will be needed to test these approaches.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)247-253
Number of pages7
JournalHematology / the Education Program of the American Society of Hematology. American Society of Hematology. Education Program
StatePublished - Jan 1 2013


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