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Jul 28, 2016
 |  BC Innovations  |  Tools & Techniques

Best of both worlds

Why NKT cells could help or even upstage CAR T cells

Natural killer (NK) cells aren't the only new class of immune cells attracting attention for immuno-oncology. A group from Baylor College of Medicine has found a subset of natural killer T (NKT) cells, a cell type that falls within the innate immune system but shares features with both NK and T cells, and is exploring them for cancer.

Most cancer immunotherapies in development involve components of the adaptive immune system, aiming to induce potent immune responses, typically via T cells. But some are exploiting the innate immune system, which non-specifically defends against pathogens, cancers and other abnormal cells, and includes NK cells (see Figure: Crossing the aisle).

NKT cells express both a TCR and an NK cell marker. Like T cells, they elicit antigen-specific tumor cell death by recognizing a specific antigen. But they also indirectly induce non-specific tumor cell death by activating NK cells.

And as with NK cells, high numbers of circulating and tumor-infiltrating NKT cells have been linked to improved outcomes for cancer patients. However, developing NKT cell-based therapies has been difficult because the cells are also short-lived, rare and don't proliferate effectivelyin vitro (see Cover Story).

In a paper published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation in May, Leonid Metelitsa and colleagues at Baylor identified a subset of NKT cells characterized by expression of the cell adhesion protein

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