About Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are regulated research studies that try to find better ways to prevent, screen for, diagnose or treat a disease. These critical studies answer specific questions about new interventions—which can be new vaccines, drugs and devices—and measure their effectiveness and safety for patients. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates clinical trials in the U.S.

 

It is important to explore all options when treating lung disease. Consider clinical trials as soon as you are diagnosed and every time you have to make a treatment decision.

To learn more about clinical trials, please visit American Lung Association

Natural Killer Cells

How the immune system's first wave of defense may play a newfound role in cancer care

By Robert Levy
 
June 10, 2019

As a resident at the University of Minnesota in the late 2000s, Rizwan Romee, MD, witnessed something that, though thoroughly grounded in science, seemed to mingle with the miraculous.

 

"There was a patient in her 60s with advanced acute myeloid leukemia who hadn't responded to multiple courses of chemotherapy," recalls Romee, now director of the Haploidentical Donor Transplant Program at Dana-Farber. "She had spots – skin lesions – covering most of her body. The attending physician suggested treating her with an infusion of natural killer [NK] cells donated by her son. What happened over the next 48 hours was pretty dramatic: The spots almost completely disappeared, and she went into remission. I thought it was the coolest thing I'd ever seen."

 

Although the improvement proved to be brief – the patient later died of her disease – Romee was captivated by what he had seen, and by what he sensed as the potential of NK cells as a therapy for cancer. The experience would permanently shape the course of his research.

 

NK cells are the shock troops of the immune system, the first wave of defenders against infection and disease. They're called natural killers because they don't require any special preparation or training to go on the attack. Like a well-organized strike force, they deploy quickly, do their job, and disperse.

 

As critical as their role is, their identity was, for many years, obscure. It wasn't until the mid- 1970s that researchers in Sweden discovered that NK cells were a distinct type of white blood cell, rather than a special subset of T cells or B cells, the only kinds of white blood cells known at the time. The late start means that research into NK cells is at a substantially earlier stage than research into T and B cells, which were discovered several decades ago. "In a way, we're in a position of playing catch-up," Romee says. "We're still getting to know NK cells, their capabilities and limitations, and their prospects of being used in cancer treatment."

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