Researchers generated "natural killer" cells from the human embryonic stem cells. As part of the immune system, natural killer cells normally are present in the blood stream and are play a role in defending the body against infection and against some cancers.
"This is the first published research to show the ability to make cells from human embryonic stem cells that are able to treat and fight cancer, especially leukemias and lymphomas," said Dan Kaufman, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine in the Stem Cell Institute and Department of Medicine at the University of Minnesota and lead author of the study.
"We hear a lot about the potential of stem cells to treat conditions such as Parkinson's disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer's disease. This research suggests it is possible that we could use human embryonic stem cells as a source for immune cells that could better target and destroy cancer cells and potentially treat infections," Kaufman added.
The results also provided the researchers with a model of how the immune system develops.
Next, the researchers will test whether the human embryonic stem cell-derived natural killer cells can target cancer cells in animal models.
This research was done on two of the federally approved embryonic stem cell lines. Kaufman said, however, that if the research would lead to a treatment for people, new lines would have to be developed. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the American Society of Hematology.