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Researchers create 'natural killer' cells to fight cancer

Dan S. Kaufman, M.D., Ph.D.

Stem-cell researchers at the University of Minnesota have achieved a laboratory breakthrough that could pave the way for future treatments for some types of cancers. For the first time, they’ve been able to coax human embryonic stem cells to create cancer-killing cells known as “natural killer” cells.

Natural killer cells are normally present in the bloodstream as part of a person’s natural immune system. They play a key role in defending the body against infection as well as some cancers.

The University of Minnesota study, led by McKnight Land-Grant Professor Dan Kaufman, M.D., Ph.D., is the first published research to show the ability to make cells from human embryonic stem cells that are able to treat and fight cancer, especially leukemias and lymphomas. The next step is to test whether the stem cell-derived natural killer cells can target cancer cells in animals.

The study was done on two of the federally approved embryonic stem-cell lines and was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the American Society of Hematology.

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