'Super natural killer cells' eradicate lymph node metastases in mice

By John Murphy, MDLinx
Published November 13, 2015

Key Takeaways

Biomedical engineers have supercharged natural killer cells with nanoparticles to seek out and destroy cancer in lymph nodes. These ‘super natural killer cells’ soon induced apoptosis of metastatic cancer cells in the lymph nodes of mice, according to a study published online November 2, 2015 in the journal Biomaterials.

“We want to see lymph node metastasis become a thing of the past,” said the study’s senior author Michael R. King, PhD, the Daljit S. and Elaine Sarkaria Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Cornell University, in Ithaca, NY.

In most types of cancer, tumor-draining lymph nodes are the first site of metastasis. In this study, the biomedical engineers injected nanoscale liposomes with the protein TRAIL (tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand), which attached to natural killer cells residing in the lymph nodes. These became what Dr. King calls “super natural killer cells.” Within days, the super natural killer cells completely eliminated lymph node metastases in mice.

In January 2014, Dr. King and his colleagues published research in which they attached the TRAIL protein to white blood cells, which annihilated metastasizing cancer cells in the bloodstream. “So, now we have technology to eliminate bloodstream metastasis—our previous work—and also lymph node metastases,” Dr. King said.

“Our ultimate goal with this technology is to see it benefit patients and to prevent the spread of cancer to the lymph nodes,” he said. Between 29% to 37% of patients with breast, colorectal, and lung cancers are diagnosed with metastases in their tumor-draining lymph nodes. Those patients are at a higher risk for distant-organ metastases and later-stage cancer diagnoses.

“Long term, this technology could benefit many different types of cancer—including breast, prostate, lung, melanoma, colon cancer, and others,” he added.

The research team is now planning more animal studies to further demonstrate the efficacy and safety of the super natural killer cells and improve cancer survival rates. Their goal is to eventually test the technology in humans, “which could be as soon as a few years from now,” Dr. King said.

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