Research Foundation News

September 4, 2019

‘Natural killers’ may help treat advanced solid cancerous tumors

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – An internal battle over oxygen can lead to major setbacks for people battling solid malignant tumors such as lung and brain cancers. Many solid tumors develop a severe lack of oxygen because they grow into large masses where the blood supply becomes progressively impaired. Cancer cells have adapted to grow in these situations, but immune cells have not.

Now, Purdue University cancer scientists have developed a type of immune cell, the natural killer (NK) cell, which they have genetically modified to more specifically target and kill cancer cells.

“Our new immunotherapy option could help people dealing with solid tumors where hypoxia, or a lack of oxygen, has created an environment that promotes tumor progression,” said Sandro Matosevic, an assistant professor in Purdue’s College of Pharmacy, who leads the research team. “The NK cells we developed are potent because they combine antibody specificity with direct killing of cancer cells since the NK cells are forced into contact with the cancer, which significantly improves the anti-tumor response.”

The Purdue team designed advanced NK cells that are able to specifically and directly target CD73, an enzyme expressed on many solid tumors. Matosevic said CD73 presents a major challenge in the treatment of solid tumors because it produces adenosine, which directly binds to the NK cells and basically shuts them down.

“This is a really unique prospect that has tremendous implications for future cancer treatments,” Matosevic said. “I have lived through many experiences of people close to me and others who have suffered due to cancers that are devastating, and am deeply inspired by the potential that genetic engineering technology and immunotherapy is now able to do for these people.”

The Purdue scientists said this immunotherapy is initially intended for people with advanced solid tumors and those that have not responded well to other treatments. They are working to proceed to clinical trials in people with advanced lung cancer.

The technology is being patented through the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization. The scientists are looking for partners to test and commercialize their technology. For more information on licensing a Purdue innovation, contact the Office of Technology Commercialization at

This immunotherapy technology is among several recent innovations from Purdue scientists and the Purdue University Center for Cancer Research.       

The cancer research and technology aligns with Purdue's Giant Leaps celebration of the university’s global advancements in health as part of Purdue’s 150th anniversary. It is one of the four themes of the yearlong celebration’s Ideas Festival, designed to showcase Purdue as an intellectual center solving real-world issues.

About Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization           

The Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization operates one of the most comprehensive technology transfer programs among leading research universities in the U.S. Services provided by this office support the economic development initiatives of Purdue University and benefit the university's academic activities through commercializing, licensing and protecting Purdue intellectual property. The office is managed by the Purdue Research Foundation, which received the 2016 Innovation and Economic Prosperity Universities Award for Innovation from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. The Purdue Research Foundation is a private, nonprofit foundation created to advance the mission of Purdue University. Visit the Office of Technology Commercialization for more information. 

Writer: Chris Adam, 765-588-3341,

Source: Sandro Matosevic,

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