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Masonic Cancer Center researchers develop an improved process for natural killer cell production

A recent study led by researchers from the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota, found a process for mass-producing human natural killer (NK) cells to make them available for clinical-scale use.

Dan Kaufman

Dan Kaufman, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Department of Medicine, led research finding an improved process for NK cell production.

Current mass-production processes for human NK cells are poorly defined, time-consuming and require supplemental cell parts to develop mature and functional NK cells. The new method proposed in the study eliminates many of the steps used in current processes, making the production of the cells easier on a large scale.

The study, published recently by Stem Cells Translational Medicine, was a collaborative effort between Masonic Cancer Center researchers within the University of Minnesota’s Stem Cell Institute (SCI) and researchers from the University of Texas.

“Our data demonstrate an improved method to develop NK cells from human pluripotent stem cells,” said Dan Kaufman, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor in the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Department of Medicine. “Using a stepwise approach, we were able to transition to a completely defined system amenable to clinical translation.”

NK cells are one of the major types of lymphocytes — white blood cells dictating immune responses to infectious or foreign substances and antigens — that function as an innate part of the immune system. NK cells are particularly effective at attacking malignant tumors, making them an important player in the effort to fight cancer naturally.

The primary method of producing NK cells is cultivation from one of two types of human pluripotent stem cells — either human embryonic stem cells (hESC) or induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC). Current techniques for deriving NK cells from these stem cells are complicated and involve using feeder layers from animal tissues. The process developed in the new study is more efficient as it doesn’t require feeder layers or some of the other intensive steps that have been used before.

According to Kaufman, this streamlined process allows for larger-scale production of NK cells and could have far-reaching effects for the future of cancer immunotherapies.

“Our ability to now produce large numbers of cytotoxic NK cells means the prospect hESC- and iPSC-derived products for diverse clinical therapies can be realized in the not-too-distant future. Additionally, it may be possible to engineer hESCs and iPSCs with antitumor and antiviral receptors to provide an off-the-shelf product of targeted lymphocytes for immunotherapies.”


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