Engineered killer T cells could provide long-lasting immunity against cancer

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UCLA researchers proved they can apply iNKT cells to attack tumor cells and treat cancer. Their new technique, published in the journal Cell Stem Cell, hindered the growth of multiple types of human tumors that had been transplanted into animal tests .

“What’s really exciting is that we can give this treatment just once and it increases the number of iNKT cells to levels that can fight cancer for the lifetime of the animal,” said Lili Yang, a member of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA and the study’s senior author.

Scientists believed that iNKT cells could become a useful tool against cancer because there are findings where these cells target various types of cancer at the same time. It is a paramount distinction from most immune cells. Usually an immune cell targets only one kind of cancer cell at any given time. Most people have low amounts of iNKT cells; less than 0.1% of blood cells are iNKT cells in most cases.

Still, Yang and her colleagues confirm that previous clinical studies illustrate that cancer patients with naturally higher levels of iNKT cells live longer than those patients with lower levels of these cells.

“They are very powerful cells but they’re naturally present in such small numbers in the human blood that they usually can’t make a therapeutic difference,” said Yang, who also is a UCLA assistant professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics and a member of the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.

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