NK cell-based immunotherapies in cancer

Min Hwa Shin, Junghee Kim, Siyoung A. Lim, Jungwon Kim, Seong Jin Kim, Kyung Mi Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

80 Citations (Scopus)


With the development of technologies that can transform immune cells into therapeutic modalities, immunotherapy has remarkably changed the current paradigm of cancer treatment in recent years. NK cells are components of the innate immune system that act as key regulators and exhibit a potent tumor cytolytic function. Unlike T cells, NK cells exhibit tumor cytotoxicity by recognizing non-self, without deliberate immunization or activation. Currently, researchers have developed various approaches to improve the number and anti-tumor function of NK cells. These approaches include the use of cytokines and Abs to stimulate the efficacy of NK cell function, adoptive transfer of autologous or allogeneic ex vivo expanded NK cells, establishment of homogeneous NK cell lines using the NK cells of patients with cancer or healthy donors, derivation of NK cells from induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), and modification of NK cells with cutting-edge genetic engineering technologies to generate chimeric Ag receptor (CAR)-NK cells. Such NK cell-based immunotherapies are currently reported as being promising anti-tumor strategies that have shown enhanced functional specificity in several clinical trials investigating malignant tumors. Here, we summarize the recent advances in NK cell-based cancer immunotherapies that have focused on providing improved function through the use of the latest genetic engineering technologies. We also discuss the different types of NK cells developed for cancer immunotherapy and present the clinical trials being conducted to test their safety and efficacy.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere14
JournalImmune Network
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Apr

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Lee KM was supported by grants from the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) (NRF-2017R1A2B3004828, NRF-2016M3A9B6948342, NRF-2018M3A9D3079288, and NRF-2018M3A9D3079285). Shin MH was also supported by a grant from NRF (NRF-2018R1D1A1B07041442) and a Korea University Grant. This work was supported by the Korea Health Industry Development Institute (KHIDI-HI14C2640) grant funded by the Korean Government.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2020. The Korean Association of Immunologists.


  • Cancer
  • Immunotherapy
  • NK cells
  • Tumor microenvironment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology
  • Infectious Diseases


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