Natural killer (NK) cells are lymphocytes normally found in the body that play a vital role in inducing cell death in abnormal cells like cancerous cells. Unfortunately, cancer often spreads too fast and too far for NK cells to prevent fatality. However, scientists from Cornell figured out a way to give these NK cells a boost, so cancer won’t be able to stand a chance.
Referred to as “super natural killer cells,” these specialized lymphocytes designed by Dr. Michael R. King and his team from Cornell are programmed to find and destroy cancer cells in the lymph nodes. Also known as stage II or III cancer, tumor cells “hang out” in lymph nodes in preparation for metastasis (stage IV cancer). Killing the cancer cells before they spread could greatly reduce the severity of disease surrounding continuous cancer development.
The mechanism behind the super natural killer cells involves injecting liposomes armed with specialized receptors that attach to NK cells already in the lymph nodes. These specialized receptors, called “tumor necrosis factor related apoptosis-inducing ligand” (TRAIL), enhance the already-working, apoptosis-inducing, cancer-killing behavior of NK cells. Instead of letting the cancer slip away to metastasize, the cancer cell population is completely eliminated.
“We want to see lymph node metastasis become a thing of the past,” said King. The paper resulting from his study was published in Biomaterials this month.
With successful clinical trials completed in mice, this technology is one step closer to preventing cancer metastasis in humans. Diagnoses of cancer types like colorectal, breast, and lung cancers in the lymph nodes occur between 29 and 37 percent of the time. This technology could stop the cancer from moving any further than this and subsequently save a lot of lives.