Harnessing natural killer cells in cancer immunotherapy: A review of mechanisms and novel therapies

Frederique St-Pierre, Shailender Bhatia, Sunandana Chandra*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Natural killer (NK) cells are lymphocytes that are integral to the body’s innate immunity, resulting in a rapid immune response to stressed or infected cells in an antigen-independent manner. The innate immune system plays an important role in the recognition of tumor-derived stress-related factors and is critical to subsequent adaptive immune responses against tumor antigens. The aim of this review is to discuss mechanisms by which tumor cells evade NK cells and to outline strategies that harness NK cells for cancer immunotherapy. We discuss strategies to relieve the exhausted state of NK cells, recent therapies focused on targeting NK-cell-specific activating and inhibitory receptors, the use of cytokines IL-2 and IL-15 to stimulate autologous or allogeneic NK cells, and ongoing trials exploring the use of genetically modified NK cells and chimeric antigen-receptor-modified NK (CAR-NK) cells.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1988
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 2 2021


  • Cancer immunotherapy
  • Innate immunity
  • Natural killer cells
  • Targeted therapy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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