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Fresh Hope for Kidney Cancer Patients

Times of India
8 February, 2010
By Umesh Isalkar
Pune, India

Kumar Generally modified natural killer cells can treat melanoma, kidney cancer
The reinfusion of genetically modified natural killer cells – body’s first line of defence – has been found to be scientifically effective in treating melanoma and kidney cancer when reintroduced in the body with other drugs.

The revelation was made by pathologist Vinay Kumar, the chairman of department of pathology in University of Chicago, during a conference on “Continued Medical Education on Molecular Diagnostics – 2010”, held at Yashwantrao Chavan Academy of Development Administration (Yashada) on Sunday.

Simply put, those suffering from melanoma and kidney cancer can hope for better treatment and have more chances of survival as is evident from treatment currently being offered in the US.

An authority on cellular and molecular biology of natural killer cells, Kumar is known as the co–author of the pathology reference book ‘Robbin’s Pathology and Cotran Pathologic Basis of Disease’ – a book referred to by medical students all over the world.

“Natural killer cells taken from a person suffering from melanoma or kidney cancer can be genetically modified. These modified cells when expanded, cultured and reinfused, promise cure when administered with other drugs,” said Kumar, who has made substantial contribution in understanding the origin and differentiation of these cells and their role in rejection of transplanted bone marrow.

In an exclusive interview, Kumar said, “Natural killer (NK) cells are part of our first line of defence against cancerous and virus infected cells. They are small lymphocytes that originate in the bone marrow. A small fraction of the lymphocytes circulating in the blood are neither T cells nor B cells. Most of these are called natural killer cells because they are specialised in killing certain types of target cells, especially host cells that have become infected or cancerous.”

Those who have no NK cells or dysfunctional NK cells by birth are more prone to catching viral infections especially from herpes group of virus. “Our recent study has found that such patients when treated with genetically modified NK cells have lesser severity of viral infection,” said Kumar. Similarly, efforts are on to use genetically modified NK cells against various other viral infections and cancers, he added.

The role of NK cells is being actively investigated in the treatment of leukaemia. “Clinical trials are at a very advanced stage. Similarly, research to isolate the specific type of stem cells which give rise to NK cells is also underway,” said Kumar.

Kumar believes that cancer treatment in India is at par with the west. “The health care services in India can broadly be compartmentalised in two categories. One a rapidly advancing private healthcare sector for the rich and the other is public healthcare sector for the poor which is ridden with various wants and woes,” he added.

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