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Newly Developed 'Super Natural Killers' Can Destroy Cancer in Lymph Nodes

Recently, biomedical engineers at Cornell University have developed a type of specialized white blood cells- called "super natural killer cells" that can seek and destroy lymph node cancer cells. This breakthrough, published in this month's Biomaterials, can be very helpful in halting the spread of cancer to other parts. As the senior author of this article, biomedical engineering professor Michael R. King, said: "We want to see lymph node metastasis become a thing of the past."

Super Natural Killers

A robust amount of the therapeutic, cancer-killing TRAIL protein, shown in green, bound to the surface of natural killer cells - making them 'super natural killer cells' - collected from the mouse lymph node 24 hours after treatment. From Courtesy Cornell University. 

For the tumor cells, the lymph node is a staging area but plays a key role in promoting the process of cancer metastasis throughout the body. In this study, biomedical engineers killed the tumor cells in a few days by injecting TRAIL liposomes(tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand) that attach to a type of white blood cell which resides in the lymph nodes.

King said that the natural killer cells became the "super natural killer cells" that can find cancer cells and induce apoptosis in cancer cells to self-destruct and disintegrate, thereby preventing any further cancer lymph node metastasis.

These researchers used nanoparticles, prepared TRAIL liposomes and attached them to the natural killer cells, to produce what they call 'super natural killer cells', and then these lymph node metastasis in mice were completely eliminated. "

There are four stages during cancer progression. At stage I, tumor is small and has not progressed to the lymph nodes. In the second and third stages, the tumor grow and it may spread to the lymph nodes. In the fourth stage, cancer metastasis transfer from the lymph nodes to other parts of the body organs.

About 29%-37% of patients with breast cancer, colorectal cancer and lung cancer are diagnosed that tumor metastasis occurs in tumor draining lymph nodes, which are located in downstream from the tumor, and these patients are at a higher risk of distant organ lymph node metastasis and advanced cancer diagnosis.

In January 2014, King and his colleagues published a study that attached TRAIL protein to the white blood cells which wiped out cancer metastasis in bloodstream. King said: "So, now we have technology to eliminate bloodstream metastasis – our previous work – and also lymph node metastases."


Siddarth Chandrasekaran, Maxine F. Chan, Jiahe Li, Michael R. King. Super natural killer cells that target metastases in the tumor draining lymph nodes. Biomaterials.

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