Although immune cells called natural killer (NK) cells hold great promise in preventing and treating cancer, they are still evolving as a therapy.
With Masonic support, Jeffrey Miller, M.D., deputy director of the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota and founder of the center’s Cancer Experimental Therapeutics Initiative, has tested donor-derived NK cells in hundreds of patients with advanced cancer over the years.
He has found that while NK cells stop cancer in some people, they are not as effective in others due to issues with immune rejection, as well as cell survival and proliferation.
Today, Miller and his team are focused on overcoming these obstacles.
They recently identified a subset of NK cells with stronger immune memory than conventional NK cells and are partnering with a biopharmaceutical company to commercialize this therapy. Miller’s group is also developing proteins called tri-specific killer engagers (TriKEs) that could improve the impact of NK cells by prompting them to better recognize cancer cells and stimulating them to survive and grow. They plan to start testing a specific form of TriKE later this year in people with treatment-resistant myeloid leukemia and a blood disorder called myelodysplastic syndrome.
“At the Masonic Cancer Center, we are seeing an increase in early phase clinical trial enrollment and faculty are becoming more engaged. The Masons’ gift has been hugely successful in seeding new ideas and fostering team science, all critical components of translational research.”