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University of Minnesota Tests for Natural Killer Cells Fighting Cancer



More than a decade of research at the University of Minnesota to identify and release a specific type of healing cell, a natural killer or NK cell, has created two experimental cancer therapies that are first tested on patients.

The University is launching two new industry-leading clinical trials of NK cell products that it has helped create. The first is a protein cluster that absorbs the body's own NK cells to fight leukemia; the rest is the infusion of mass-produced NK cells to target solid tumors.

While both are still in the earliest stages of safety testing, university officials said they are promising because they can be "off the shelf" therapy for people with life-threatening cancers who cannot wait for NK cell transplants in donors.

Waiting for donor NK cells "is a major barrier," said Dr. Menish Patel, a U-researcher leading the solid tumor study. "They don't have to wait to find a donor and collect cells and then grow the cells in the lab."

U is largely the grandfather of NK researchers, who was one of the first US institutions two decades ago to identify and chase cells as a potential therapy. NK cells usually function as a weapon of the body's first immune system; they respond to perceived threats or infections, while the body produces T cells that provide more targeted attacks. NK cells also leave chemical traces that tell the T cells where to go.

"This is one thing that U has truly surpassed and led," Patel said.

In solid tumor research, U is the third website for a federally approved federal safety test of an NK product named FT500, which it developed in partnership with San Diego-based Fate Therapeutics. Cell therapy alone will be administered to one group of patients with solid cancers who have not responded to other treatments, and to the second group of patients in combination with drugs that boost the immune system in a way that can make NK

A common problem of any transplant or infusions ̵

1; the body's natural instinct to attack and reject them. NK cells have been shown in studies to resist this response, but mainly in patients with blood cancer, such as leukemia, which weakened their immune system. Patients with solid cancers typically have a stronger immune system that can attack infused NK cells.

Researchers are closely monitoring the duration of NK cells in the body and their frequency of rejection, said Dr. Dan Kaufman, director of the cell therapy program at the University of California, San Diego, who previously conducted NK research in Minnesota. His institution is also involved in forensic research.

"The longer cells are stored, the more efficient they seek," he said.

Helping the body to heal itself

Another new clinical trial involves: the so-called TriKE protein cluster developed by U for GT Biopharma. It is designed to strengthen NK cells in patients who are resistant to leukemia.

"Our team has been working on the structure for years, and we are pleased to see it in clinical testing," said Dr. Jeffrey Miller, deputy director of the Masonic U Cancer Center, whose initial studies were conducted in both trials.

The University and Fate are undergoing three additional trials involving the use of NK donor cells, usually derived from relatives of cancer patients.

H. cells are part of a new wave of immunotherapy that aims to make the body heal. Although NK cells are still experimental, another approach, known as CAR-T therapy, has already been approved and is being used at the U and Mayo Clinic. They involve collecting T cells from patients, modifying cells, and then returning them to patients so that the modified cells cling to the cancer cells and destroy them.

NK researchers stated that, if effective, their alternatives would be cheaper than the last CAR-T therapy, since they would not have to be customized for each patient.

The value of NK cell research has often been cited U decades ago, when it protected against the prohibition or restriction of state law. research using embryonic stem cells, the so-called main body cells that produce all other cells, including NK cells. The use of embryonic stem cells has been attacked as they have called for the destruction of human embryos, which some have viewed as the life of a person in need of legal protection.

However, the NK product developed by the U for a new destiny test comes from adult stem cells. Cells reprogrammed to possess "pluripotent" capabilities – the ability to create other cells – are usually found in embryonic stem cells.

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