Natural Killer Cells: A Step Forward to Reduce Cancer Relapse for Leukemia Patients

Natural Killer Cells: A Step Forward to Reduce Cancer Relapse for Leukemia Patients

On Tuesday, 23 April 2019, Professor Suttipong Wacharasindhu, Director of King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital and Dean of Faculty of Medicine at Chulalongkorn University, along with Dr. Sirasak Teparkum, Deputy CEO at the Thailand Center of Excellence of Life Sciences, Dr. Koramit Suppitpat, Head of Research on Cell Therapy for Cancer Patients at Chulalongkorn University, Assistant Professor Dr. Udomsak Bunworasate, Head of Hematology Department at Chulalongkorn University, and Professor Nattiya Hirankarn, Assistant Dean for Research at the Faculty of Medicine at Chulalongkorn University, announced the first milestone in using natural killer cells to prevent cancer relapse in acute myeloid leukemia patients.


Natural killer cells are a type of white blood cells that are crucial to the immune system but only make up about 5–10% of all the white blood cells in a human body. The main role of a natural killer cell is to target malignant cells or cells with potentially harmful genetic abnormalities. These cells are usually virus-infected and may develop into tumor or cancer.  The natural killer cells serve to destroy these foreign cells and clear the infection.


Regardless, due to the limited amount of natural killer cells that can be produced in humans, the killer cells have to be cultured in a lab, where the cells can be stimulated, multiplied, and grown outside of the body.  Although the natural killer cells are proven to have special characteristics to eradicate cancer cells, studies have only proven this result in acute myeloid leukemia patients.


The Chula research team has initiated a clinical trial with a group of five acute myeloid leukemia patients.  The patients have been treated with natural killer cells from donors.  All of the patients were prospects of cancer relapse and previously did not respond well to standard treatment options.  Through the clinical trial, these lab-grown donor killer cells were transferred back into the patients to kill malignant cells. To date, the project results have been positive and the research team will move forward with the next stages of treatment and monitoring of the killer cells’ effectiveness in leukemia patients.


Apart from the research on treatment for acute myeloid leukemia patients, the research center has also developed cancer treatment methods using chimeric antigen receptor T-cells: CAR T-cells for leukemia and lymphoid lymphoma patients, virus specific T-cells for the treatment of viral infections after hematopoietic stem cell transplants or nasopharyngeal cancer, and dendritic cell vaccines.


The sense of kinship and warmth found in the Chula community is priceless and a treasure worth keeping.

Prof. Dr. Pornanong Aramwit Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Chulalongkorn University