A double whammy of a virus combined with boosting the natural immune system could take doctors a step closer to finding the most effective way to treat cancer, according to a new study from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) and The Ohio State University.
"The findings of this research are very exciting because it helps unravel the complex yin and yang relationship between the natural cancer-fighting power intrinsic to our immune system and externally added cancer-killing cells that are given as a therapy. It's very significant because it shows, contrary to recent scientific claims, that virotherapy can be combined with cell therapy for a positive effect," said the study's corresponding author Balveen Kaur, Ph.D., professor and vice chair of research in the Vivian L. Smith Department of Neurosurgery at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth.
Previous scientific wisdom has discredited combining virotherapy and externally added NK cell therapy to the body's natural killer (NK) cells, but there could be clear cancer-fighting benefits - providing enough external NK cells are deployed to destroy the tumor and stop its spread, as revealed in the paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).
NK cells are an essential part of the innate immune system and they play a critical role in protecting the body from cancer. The primary function of NK cells is to fight infections, which means they attack the introduced virus, thus thwarting its therapeutic capacity. However, if sufficient numbers of extra NK cells are added, they can kill more tumor cells directly and compensate for this negative influence.
"Natural NK cells sense and kill infected cancer cells, thus clearing viruses. But by adding exogenous NK cells in sufficient quantities, they can also destroy the residual tumor. Our tests showed when you get this ratio right, there's a significant improvement in cancer-fighting efficacy," said Kaur, who is a member of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. "So it's a big step forward, which should create more opportunities for further research and development of clinical trials for the treatment of cancer in humans and animals."