What is Natural Killer Cells?
The immune system comprises of an innate system which we receive from birth and acquired. Within the innate immune system, there are special cells known as natural killer (NK) cells that activate and inhibit a broad array of receptors in the body. They are our body’s first line of defense against cancers and diseases. They are activated in receptors and provide a “killing” functions that responds in times of damaged cells and infections. These NK cells recognize damaged and stressed cells which are called to elimination via NK cells. Healthy cells contain receptors such as MHC 1 molecules which prevent destruction via NK cells. Damaged or malignant cells lack this receptor and are prone to destruction. Due to their capability to destroy poorly performing cells, NK can play a major role in therapy for infections and cancers. Once NK cells encounter the same infection or virus again, they attack stronger , rendering these cells a valuable source for therapy. This article will focus on NK cells and their source and how modern medicine is using this to treat cancers and infections today.
NK Cells have the ability to fight off many diseases
Natural Killer cells, when in high volumes and full potency, have the ability to fight off many diseases. As the rates of cancer and immunocompromising diseases such as malignancies, viruses, HIV and Aids increases, the need for more treatments is warranted. In a normal person, thousands of malignant cells which can lead to cancer is developed and destroyed daily. As of now, there are over 14 million new patients affected with cancer and over 10 million who have died worldwide. NK cells play in role in maintaining these and healthy patient’s immune system to help fight the cancer.. One such method for treatment is NK allogeneic (one’s own) transplant to collect a large amount of NK cells in a patient’s body and increase their potency before returning it to the patient. NK cells are collected from healthy donors and can also be collected from the umbilical cord. The patient is simply laid in an office or hospital setting and blood is collected intravenously. The blood is then carefully filtered and NK cells are activated, duplicated and acquired in a lab before cryopreservation(freezing). The patient’s most benefiting from this therapy are cancer or immunocompromised patients due to a poor immune system. With these stronger and increased amount of NK cells, they are able to attack any malignant or cancer cells, viruses, as well as latch on to antibodies to make them stronger for defending against infections. The patient receiving the donated or own NK cells are treated in the hospital. The blood is transfused into the patient with over 5 to 10 billion NK cells for the best efficiency.
Benefits and Side Effects of Transfusing NK Cells
So what are the benefits and side effects of transfusing NK cells to the patient. In terms of benefits, NK cells are the hardest to produce in the body, so transfusing a large amount automatically strengthens the patient’s immune system. The cells are quicker and attack any abnormal cell immediately after transfusion. The NK cells not only eliminate but prevent the reoccurrence of such viral or cancer cells because of it’s stronger memory for attack. Though it must be known this is not a full or sure cure for cancer but a great adjunct with other therapeutic agents given to a patient. Those with viral and other diseases also benefit the same but must continue taking other medicines prescribed. Side effects are minimal for the patient. It is not painful, the patient may feel some fatigue or nausea but does not have to be hospitalized or rested. Some patients, usually a small percentage may reject the cells given even after careful selection so if any fever, rash or vomiting occurs, they must contact their doctor immediately.
Natural killer cells are our best and most innate form of defense since birth. However, for some, these cells may not work as much or are not available in those affected with cancers and certain viral infections. With the progression of medicine and research, the ability to understand and collect natural killer cells for therapy has increased. This makes it available for patient seeking therapy for poor or weakened immune systems without much harm. Though it is not a full cure for most diseases, it is a step in the right direction of treating malignant cells we once thought were not quickly destroyable.