Targeting Cancer Stem Cells with Natural Killer Cell Immunotherapy

Jesus I. Luna, Steven K. Grossenbacher, William J Murphy, Robert J Canter

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Introduction: Standard cytoreductive cancer therapy, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, are frequently resisted by a small portion of cancer cells with ‘stem-cell’ like properties including quiescence and repopulation. Immunotherapy represents a breakthrough modality for improving oncologic outcomes in cancer patients. Since the success of immunotherapy is not contingent on target cell proliferation, it may also be uniquely suited to address the problem of resistance and repopulation exerted by cancer stem cells (CSCs). Areas covered: Natural killer (NK) cells have long been known for their ability to reject allogeneic hematopoietic stem cells, and there are increasing data demonstrating that NK cells can selectively identify and lyse CSCs. The authors review the current knowledge of CSCs and NK cells and highlight recent studies that support the concept that NK cells are capable of targeting CSC in solid tumors, especially in the context of combination therapy simultaneously targeting non-CSCs and CSCs. Expert opinion: Unlike cytotoxic cancer treatments, NK cells can target and eliminate quiescent/non-proliferating cells such as CSCs, and these enigmatic cells are an important source of relapse and metastasis. NK targeting of CSCs represents a novel and potentially high impact method to capitalize on the intrinsic therapeutic potential of NK cells

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)313-324
Number of pages12
JournalExpert Opinion on Biological Therapy
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 4 2017


  • ALDH
  • cancer stem cells
  • CD133
  • CD24
  • CD44
  • natural killer cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Drug Discovery
  • Clinical Biochemistry


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