What is this research looking at?

Natural killer (NK) cells are an important type of cell in the immune system and have the ability to kill virally infected or cancerous cells. For this reason, there is increasing interest in using this cell type as a new anti-cancer therapy. The ability of NK cells to recognise what is a cancer cell and what is a healthy cell is crucial for an effective immune response. We have recently discovered a novel way in which NK cells can recognise virally infected cells (via a receptor called KIR2DS2) and now have evidence that this same mechanism can be used by NK cells to detect cancer cells. This project funded by Leukaemia UK aims to define how NK cells recognise leukaemic cells and to determine whether this can be utilised for a novel NK cell mediated therapy for leukaemia.

What could this mean for people with leukaemia?

NK cells have an important role in preventing relapse following stem cell transplantation. Increased understanding of how NK cells detect leukaemic cells may therefore allow for improved selection of donors and patients in the transplantation setting for leukaemia treatment. In addition, this project will develop a novel means with which to stimulate NK cells via KIR2DS2 and this has the potential to become a first-in class therapeutic agent for leukaemia.

“The John Goldman fellowship will provide me with funding to establish my research independence, develop my academic career and to work on an exciting project with strong potential to improve the treatment of leukaemia.”

Lead Researcher: Matthew Blunt, University of Southampton

Official title of project: Activating killer cell immunoglobulin-like receptors in B-cell malignancies: a therapeutic target