New drug will deploy an army of Natural Killer cells

Researchers at the Imperial College London have ID'd a master gene that turns blood stem cells into Natural Killer--or NK--immune cells. And their work points the way to new cancer therapies as well as a better understanding of the part these unique immune cells play in provoking multiple sclerosis, diabetes and other autoimmune ailments.

To study the role that NK cells play in the disease process, scientists created a breakthrough mouse model that knocks out the E4bp4 master gene. That should help determine if mutant versions of these NK cells are, as suspected, spurring autoimmune disease. The scientific team is also working on a new drug that spurs production of normal NK cells to determine their effectiveness as a cancer fighter. Currently donated NK cells are used to treat patients, but are often not an exact match.

"If increased numbers of the patient's own blood stem cells could be coerced into differentiating into NK cells, via drug treatment, we would be able to bolster the body's cancer-fighting force, without having to deal with the problems of donor incompatibility," says Dr. Hugh Brady.

- read the press release
- check out the BBC report