Biomedical engineers have developed a way to enhance natural killer cells in the immune system so they can more effectively seek out and destroy cancer cells in lymph nodes.
This technology was successfully tested in mice. If it works in humans, it could stop cancer using lymph nodes to spread to the rest of the body.
The research on the “super natural killer cells” in a paper published in the journal Biomaterials.
The goal is to see lymph node metastasis become a thing of the past.
Most cancers spread through the lymph nodes. Presence in the lymph nodes is a way of staging the disease. Once cancer cells reach the lymph nodes, the changes of survival are considerably reduced.
Cancer progress is categorized by a 4-stage system. In stage 1, the tumor is small and localized, the cancer has not yet spread to the lymph nodes. In stage 2 and 3, the tumors are bigger and it is likely that cancer cells have made it to the lymph nodes. Stage 4 cancers are where the cells have travelled through the lymph nodes and set up tumors in other parts of the body.
Natural killer cells are a type of white blood cell in the immune system that targets abnormal cells such as tumor-promoting cells and cells infected with viruses.
Once the killer cells recognize their target cell, they latch onto it and then inject toxic molecules into it. These disrupt several processes inside the target cell, triggering apoptosis or cell death.
This effect can be significantly boosted by attaching a protein called TRIAL to the natural killer cells and turn them into “super killer cells.”
The killer cells inject TRIAL into the cancer cells and trigger cell death and disintegration.
In the study, researchers found that they could kill cancerous tumor cells in the lymph nodes of mice by injecting liposomes armed with TRIAL that attach to the natural killer cells that reside in the lymph nodes. The super killer cells eliminated the cancer cells within days.
This method now needs to be tested in other animal studies and will hopefully in a few years be ready for human trials.