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Scientists Capture NK Cells to Harvest Exosomes in the Fight Against Cancer

Jul 13, 2021 10:15:00 AM / by Stacy Matthews Branch, DVM, PhD

AdobeStock_408171567-1Researchers from the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center and their College of Engineering teamed up to develop a microfluidic chip that is capable of seizing natural killer (NK) immune cells and then harvesting the NK cells’ cancer-killing abilities.

Natural killer cells are part of the innate immune system and have a robust anti-tumor function. NK cells demonstrate tumor cytotoxicity without the need for activation, as is the case for T cells.

 There is an ongoing and extensive investigation into effective cancer treatments and have substantially fewer side effects than conventional chemotherapy. The study of NK cell–based immunotherapy is ongoing given the cells’ characteristics that can bolster the development of adaptive cell therapies.

Studies on NK cells also revealed that the cells’ exosomes show significant anti-tumor properties. Some advantages of exosomes are their higher stability, lower immunogenicity, and nanoscale size, making them better able to penetrate tumors. By collaborating with oncologists and chemical engineers, a microfluidic chip was developed to capture NK cells from patient blood samples and then incubate them to release the exosomes for collection. The microfluidic approach essentially works as a microscale cell and particle sorter.

Researchers obtained exosomes from patients with non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and healthy patients to determine the anti-tumor capacity of NK cell exosomes. The exosomes were incubated with a patient-derived circulating tumor cell line; then, cell viability was measured using fluorescent staining and microscopy. There was significant cell death for the cell cultures treated with NK exosomes when compared to those without exosomes. However, more cell death was seen with NK exosomes from healthy patients than those from patients with NSCLC. It was also found that patients’ blood with a higher circulating tumor cell count has lower NK cell levels but an increase in these cells’ exosome release.

Further studies in a larger patient population are needed to validate the observations and to determine the therapeutic potential of NK-derived exosomes better. The observed correlation between NK cells, exosomes, and circulating tumor cells may have prognostic and diagnostic value. NK-based immunotherapies have the potential as powerful personalized treatments, as well as for use as “off-the-shelf” treatments with a lower toxicity profile than CAR-T therapies.

If you would like to make discoveries such as the University of Michigan’s oncologists and engineers have, visit HemaCare to purchase high-quality cellular products. We offer products such as T cells, B cells, bone marrow, and more for the advancement of medicine. Please contact us if you have any questions about our products..


Scientists ‘Farm’ Natural Killer Cells in Novel Cancer Fighting Approach. (2021). Retrieved 2 March 2021, from

Topics: Cancer, NK Cells

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