Natural killer (NK) lymphocytes are an integral component of the innate immune system and represent important effector cells in cancer immunotherapy, particularly in the control of hematological malignancies. Refined knowledge of NK cellular and molecular biology has fueled the interest in NK cell-based antitumor therapies, and recent efforts have been made to exploit the high potential of these cells in clinical practice. Infusion of high numbers of mature NK cells through the novel graft manipulation based on the selective depletion of T cells and CD19+
B cells has resulted into an improved outcome in children with acute leukemia given human leucocyte antigen (HLA)-haploidentical hematopoietic transplantation. Likewise, adoptive transfer of purified third-party NK cells showed promising results in patients with myeloid malignancies. Strategies based on the use of cytokines or monoclonal antibodies able to induce and optimize NK cell activation, persistence, and expansion also represent a novel field of investigation with remarkable perspectives of favorably impacting on outcome of patients with hematological neoplasia. In addition, preliminary results suggest that engineering of mature NK cells through chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) constructs deserve further investigation, with the goal of obtaining an “off-the-shelf” NK cell bank that may serve many different recipients for granting an efficient antileukemia activity.
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