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Engineered human pluripotent stem cell-derived natural killer cells: the next frontier for cancer immunotherapy


Adoptive immunotherapy using immune effector cells has revolutionized cancer treatments with approval of two autologous chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapies by the US FDA. Clinical trials using natural killer (NK) cell-based adoptive immunotherapy have been shown to be safe and effective for treatment of multiple malignancies, especially acute myelogenous leukemia. However, most of these trails use primary NK cells isolated from peripheral or cord blood which can have donor-dependent variability and can be challenging to genetic engineer to improve antitumor functions, limiting the widespread use of this promising new therapy. NK cells can now be routinely produced from human pluripotent stem cells, both human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). These pluripotent stem cells are homogenous, easy to genetically modify on a clonal level and can be used as unlimited source of NK cells, making them ideal population to develop standardized, off-the-shelf adoptive NK cell therapy products. In this review, we discuss recent advances of obtaining and expanding hESC and iPSC-derived NK cells and novel genetic engineering strategies that are being applied to improve their antitumor functions.

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