The use of natural killer (NK) cells in the treatment of cancers has been around for quite some time. However, it only recently became available in Malaysia via a Bionexus Status-accorded company – Niscell Malaysia.
The treatment, known as autologous immune enhancement therapy (AIET), has been widely used in Japan for over 20 years. According to Niscell, AIET is a form of immunotherapy that is less painful, less traumatic, less toxic and possibly cheaper than some forms of chemotherapy.
Although AIET can be used as stand-alone therapy in the treatment of cancer, the current wisdom is to undergo established forms of treatment, with AIET as an adjunct.
Recognizing the potential for stem cell abuse, Niscell chairman Datuk Dr. Ridzwan Bakar said: “Stem cells have been a much-used and abused term recently. Not a day passes without an advert in the media proclaiming the virtues and ready availability of stem cells.”
“The fact of the matter is that while stem cell therapy potentially will have a tremendous impact in healthcare, its usage and applications must be done under the strictest control and under close supervision by the authorities,” he emphasized.
Officiating the launch of Niscell and AIET was the former Director-General of Health, Tan Sri Dr. Ismail Merican, who said the MOH is supportive of innovative therapies (such as the AIET). However, regulations are in the pipeline to ensure such products or therapies meet “acceptable standards of safety, quality and efficacy.”
The regulations will also cover personnel, premises and practices used to manufacture, store and distribute the products.
NK cells are the body’s own defense mechanism against non-self cells. They are a subset of bone marrow-derived lymphocytes that are distinct from B and T cells.
The main purpose of B and T cells is to kill microbe-infected and cancer cells via direct lysis and through the secretion of interferon-gamma.
In cancer patients or those with attenuated immune systems, total NK cell count is very low, thus enabling pathogens and tumor cells to proliferate.
AIET works by extracting NK cells from a patient’s body and culturing them in vitro. The patient’s own serum is used in the culture of the cells.
NK cells can be effectively expanded and activated ex vivo. After 2 weeks of culture, enough cells are obtained to be re-introduced into the patient’s system and allowed to attack the cancer cells.
NK cell activity has been inversely linked with the likelihood of developing primary cancers and metastases. In a study published in 2010, it was found that those without tumors had naturally high NK cell activity compared with those diagnosed with primary breast cancer. NK cell activity was further reduced in those with metastases. [Breast Cancer 2010;18(1):64-7]
Similarly, a Japanese study looking at the rates of cancer and its relationship with peripheral blood lympocytes (which includes NK cells) revealed that those with higher levels of peripheral blood lymphocytes had a lower incidence of cancer. This was true for both men and women across all age groups. [Lancet 2000;356:1795-9]