Thai hospital achieves first step using ‘killer cells’ on cancer


Doctors at Chulalongkorn Hospital in Bangkok announced last week that they have successfully multiplied a type of white blood cells called “killer cells” in five patients. The cells have the ability to kill particular types of cancers, putting Thailand at the forefront of a promising new approach to cure some cancers.

“We’ve achieved both the quantity and quality of killer cells we needed,” after being given samples of killer cells from donors, said Koramit Supphaphiwat, who leads the immunotherapy research team. The next step is to monitor how well the five patients fight off their cancers now that they have more killer cells.

Natural killer cells (also known as NK cells, K cells, and killer cells) are a type of lymphocyte (a white blood cell) and a component of the innate immune system, according to the ScienceDaily website. The killer cells can differentiate between healthy cells and cancerous tumor cells, and attack the tumor cells.

They are sometimes referred to as the ‘first responders’ of white blood cells, but the body does not make enough of them on its own to successfully battle cancers. Scientists believe that if they can stimulate the body to produce more killer cells, patients may be able to fight off certain cancers without chemotherapy, radiation or surgery. The approach falls under what is called immunotherapy.

Cancer has become the leading cause of death in Thailand. The Chulalongkorn team said that studies show that killer cells are effective at treating cancers such as acute myeloid leukemia, a type of bone marrow or blood cancer, but less effective in dealing with solid cancerous tumors.

“We want to tell people this good news, this first step, in cancer treatment,” said Sutthiphong Watcharasinthu, Chulalongkorn hospital director and dean of the Faculty of Medicine.