Biomedical Engineers Develop Specialized White Blood Cells

According to a recent study by Cornell University, biomedical engineers have developed specific white blood cells, “dubbed ‘super natural killer cells’” ( Science Daily, November 13, 2015) that are used to destroy cancer cells in lymph nodes, which are greatly responsible for spreading cancer from one organ to another.

The progression of cancer can be broken down into four stages (often written as Roman

Stage I: In this stage, the cancer is relatively small and contained within the organ in which it started.

Stage II: In this stage, the tumor is larger than in Stage I, but usually has not spread to surrounding tissues. However, depending on the type of cancer, the cells might have spread into the lymph nodes.

Stage III: In this stage, the cancer is larger, it has spread in the lymph nodes, and it may have started to spread to surrounding tissues.

Stage IV: In this stage, the cancer has spread from its origin to another body organ. This is also known as secondary or metastatic cancer.

The study, which used mice as its subject, revealed that by injecting liposomes fortified with a special protein known as “TRAIL (Tumor necrosis factor Related Apoptosis-Inducing Ligand) that attach to natural killer cells”, a type of immune white blood cell, found in lymph nodes, the tumor cells die within days. These “natural killer cells” now become “super natural killer cells” that find the tumor cells and cause them to break apart and kill themselves, thus stopping the spread of cancer throughout other parts of the body.

The TRAIL protein has been tested in many types of cancer and has been found to be very effective. By arming the natural killer cells with these nanoparticles, scientists can effectively prevent any spread of cancer to mice treated with these particles, thereby eliminating the metastases in lymph nodes.