NYMC Faculty Publications


Overcoming Resistance to Natural Killer Cell Based Immunotherapies for Solid Tumors

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Publication Date

February 2019




Despite advances in the diagnostic and therapeutic modalities, the prognosis of several solid tumor malignancies remains poor. Different factors associated with solid tumors including a varied genetic signature, complex molecular signaling pathways, defective cross talk between the tumor cells and immune cells, hypoxic and immunosuppressive effects of tumor microenvironment result in a treatment resistant and metastatic phenotype. Over the past several years, immunotherapy has emerged as an attractive therapeutic option against multiple malignancies. The unique ability of natural killer (NK) cells to target cancer cells without antigen specificity makes them an ideal candidate for use against solid tumors. However, the outcomes of adoptive NK cell infusions into patients with solid tumors have been disappointing. Extensive studies have been done to investigate different strategies to improve the NK cell function, trafficking and tumor targeting. Use of cytokines and cytokine analogs has been well described and utilized to enhance the proliferation, stimulation and persistence of NK cells. Other techniques like blocking the human leukocyte antigen-killer cell receptors (KIR) interactions with anti-KIR monoclonal antibodies, preventing CD16 receptor shedding, increasing the expression of activating NK cell receptors like NKG2D, and use of immunocytokines and immune checkpoint inhibitors can enhance NK cell mediated cytotoxicity. Using genetically modified NK cells with chimeric antigen receptors and bispecific and trispecific NK cell engagers, NK cells can be effectively redirected to the tumor cells improving their cytotoxic potential. In this review, we have described these strategies and highlighted the need to further optimize these strategies to improve the clinical outcome of NK cell based immunotherapy against solid tumors.