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Immune cell therapy (NK cell) – Fourth-generation anti-cancer treatment

NKCL 2020.02.13 19:22


Immune cell therapy (NK cell) – Fourth-generation anti-cancer treatment



Cancer is the biggest cause of death in Korea, and the number of cancer patients constantly increasing every year.





Modern cancer treatments generally treat the cancer by three major cancer treatments such as surgery therapy, radiation therapy, and anti-cancer medicine. First, surgical procedures are used to excise and remove cancerous areas, to exterminate cancer cells by radiation, and to prevent cancer recurrence or metastasis using anti-cancer drugs.




3 Major Cancer Treatment Method


Surgical therapy is a treatment that cuts and extracts cancerous tissue and surrounding tissue that can be transferred. Early cancer with small tumors and no metastasis is a cancer treatment that can be completely cured by expelling cancer tissue, but when surgery is performed, the cancer can sometimes spread to areas that are not visible to the naked eye and be left under detected, and if the cancer is spread to areas where it cannot be restrained or there is a wide area to be extracted, there is a problem that you cannot even attempt surgery.


Radiation therapy is a method of directly destroying cancer tissue by taking radiation and destroying the genes needed for cancer cells to proliferate. Since it is impossible to hit only cancer cells, there are side effects of killing even normal cells. A lot of radiation is being developed right now near the cancerous tissue.


Anti-cancer therapy is a treatment that stops cancer cells from proliferating by administering anti-cancer drugs. Chemotherapy works on the whole body differently from local treatment like surgical operation or radiation therapy. It is effective to restore metastasis, but there may be side effects that can affect the healthy cells of the whole body due to the effect of medicine and break the body balance.


It's only been 40 years since anti-cancer treatments has been implemented. Anti-cancer drugs have been evolving to reduce side effects and adapt to the human body. If divide the development process of anti-cancer drugs by generation, they are divided into first-generation chemotherapeutic drugs, second-generation targeted anti-cancer drugs, and third-generation immune anti-cancer drugs.



Anti-cancer drugs by generations

1 First-generation anti-cancer drugs: chemical anti-cancer drugs

Chemical anti-cancer medicine (cell toxicity anti-cancer drug) is a treatment that kills cancer cells using chemicals that kill fast-growing cells. However, chemical anti-cancer drugs affect not only cancer cells, but also mucous membranes, hair, bone marrow, and genital cells, which are the areas where division and proliferation are active in normal cells. There are disadvantages of this, such as anemia, leukocytosis, platelet reduction, and hair loss, mucous membranes (invasive inflammation, abdominal pain, diarrhea).


2 Second-generation anti-cancer drugs: targeted anti-cancer drugs

Targeted anti-cancer drugs are anti-cancer treatments that prevent specific molecular activities related to cancer growth and carcinogenesis. Because it focuses on molecular and cellular changes, it has the advantage of minimizing the side effects by selectively attacking cancer cells while minimizing normal cell damage. However, there is a disadvantage that the therapeutic effect is drastically reduced if the target is limited and resistant.



3 3rd Generation Anticancer Drug: Immune Anticancer Drug


Immune anti-cancer drugs are cancer treatments that activate the body’s immune system to fight cancer cells. Since this treatment utilizes the immune system in the patient’s body, it has the least side effects of the current anti-cancer treatment.

It is an advanced medical treatment that is effective as systemic effect while avoiding the side effects of existing chemotherapy, and is being regarded as the fourth generation treatment after resection surgery, radiation therapy and conventional chemotherapy.


Immune cell therapy uses the method of extracting immune cells from the patient’s own blood, culturing them in vitro, and then injecting them into the patient’s body. This treatment creates a therapeutic agent based on the cells of the patient, and the injected immune cells do not harm normal cells and kill cancer cells only, so there is only a few of rejection and almost no side effects. Immunocell therapy affects the whole body through blood, so it is effective against progressive cancer that have metastasized to various sites, and kills unremoved cancer cells to prevent recurrence or metastasis. Also, treatment basically requires blood draw and proceeds using IV injection, which is very suitable for patients who have less physical strength because they do not burden the body more than anti-cancer drugs and radiation therapy.




Immunocell therapy method


NK cells (Natural Killer Cell) and T cells are among the immune cells that have an excellent effect on cancer.




T-cells receive instructions or special stimuli from other immune cells and remove cancer cells. However, unlike T-cells, which require training to identify designated enemies, NK cells recognize and kill cancer cells and other abnormal cells by themselves. In addition, T-cells cannot function at all once a cancer cell that has been attacked by a T-cell is resistant and does not transmit or send a signal to the cell. However, since NK cells have the ability to distinguish normal cells from abnormal cells.                                                                                                                          


NK cell


Attack method

Self-detect then

Direct attack

Remove cancer cells

by signal

Reaction velocity

Immediate response

Relatively slow delay


Reaction to resistant

Cancer cells



Cultivation difficulty




Because NK cells are difficult to cultivate and have a short active period, they have been obscured by T-cells. However, with the recent development of technologies that allow for longer active durations and mass-cultivation, NK cells have drawn keen attention from both medical and medical circles. NKCL has remarkable culture technology that can cultivate NK cells of 20~4 billion cells on average while other research institutes and culture institutes can cultivate 2~300 million cells of NK cells.

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