Natural Killer Cells May Be Useful For Predicting How Patients Respond to Certain Immunotherapies, According to Recent Research

A recent study, published here in the journal Nature Medicine and used as the source for this article, has found that certain kinds of cells may be useful for predicting how effective T-cell directed immunotherapies would be for some patients with tumours. This finding may be useful for developing therapies.

Background to the Study

Within tumours, a type of cell called stimulatory dendritic cells (SDCs) work to stimulate cytotoxic T cells (an immune cell). This is an important part of the body’s immune response when fighting cancer. According to the article in Nature Medicine, understanding this process could be helpful for developing new therapies for treating cancer.

What Researchers Found

In patients with melanoma (skin cancer), SDC abundance has been found to be linked to the expression of a certain gene within a tumour. This gene codes for the cytokine FLT3LG, which is often produced by natural killer cells in tumours. These cells, the study authors write, play an important role (via their production of cytokine FLT3LG) in the regulation levels of SDCs in tumours. Researchers have found that, in patients with cancer, natural killer cell levels correlated with SDCs.

Natural killer cell levels also correlated with how responsive patients were to anti-PD-1 ‘checkpoint’ immunotherapy; patients that responded well to this form of therapy tended to have enriched levels of natural killer cells. Furthermore, high natural killer cell levels also correlated with improved overall patient survival.

How These Findings Could be Used

The researchers conclude that these connections suggest that SDCs and natural killer cells could be used to predict the effectiveness of certain immunotherapies and that increasing the levels of natural killer cells (and, by association, SDCs) could benefit patients.

For more detailed information about this study, there is an article that can be found here, at GenomeWeb. It provides more information about the methods used by the researchers and the results.


Anna Hewitt

Anna Hewitt

Anna is from England and recently finished her undergraduate degree. She has an interest in medicine and enjoys writing. In her spare time she likes to cook, hike, and hang out with cats.

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