Scientific researchers from TSRI (The Scripps Research Institute) were attempting to engineer cells for people suffering from immune cell deficiencies and develop a new antibody therapy. Immune cell deficiencies happen when the body does not product the sufficient number of white blood cells—the cells vital for fighting infections. The scientists initially were looking for ways to create antibodies that, when applied to immature cells found in bone marrow, would transform the cells into mature cells and therefore increase the number of mature white blood cells in immune cell deficient patients.
Their work over the past few years has been successful in achieving this objective. However, what they were not expecting to discover was that a small number of the antibody induced cells transformed the immature cells into a new cell type, similar to cells normally found within the body’s nervous system. The TSRI team of scientists were wondering what applications these new cells could potentially be used for, and they decided to experiment with AML (Acute Myeloid Leukemia) cells.
AML is an aggressive form of leukemia which attacks and destroys the body’s myeloid cells. Myeloid cells are responsible for helping fight the spread of tissue damage, parasites, and bacterial infections. People who suffer from AML produce an excessive amount of white blood cells, and this causes problems with their body producing other types of blood cells, including myeloid cells.
The scientists took blood samples from patients who had high levels of AML cells within their blood. Next, they introduced the newly created antibody cells into the blood sample. What they discovered was astonishing: The new cells attacked and transformed the AML cells into dendritic cells, and in the process, removed the threat of leukemia. Dendritic cells are a vital type of cell that helps support the body’s immune system.
The scientists were excited by this new discovery and decided to see what would happen if they exposed the blood samples for an even longer period of time to the new antibody cells. Eventually, the new antibody cells caused the dendritic cells to mature into cells resembling those that the body naturally produces to eliminate viruses and bacterial infections from the body, as well as to attack and attempt to kill cancerous cells.
From their efforts and extensive research, the new cells were aptly named NK (natural killer) cells. The new NK cells eradicated roughly 15% of the leukemia cells within a 24 hour period, by extending the cell’s tendrils and attaching themselves directly to the cancerous leukemia cells. In addition, scientists noted the NK cells only targeted AML cells, a condition scientists refer to as fratricide. In other words, since the NK cells were created from AML cells, they were only attracted to AML cells.
Scientific researchers are hopeful to start experiments with human patients suffering from AML. Using the documentation recorded in their research notebooks, they are starting experimentation with other types of cancer cells to determine whether this discovery could be applied to other forms of cancer and be a viable form of treatment to fully cure patients of cancer.
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