Natural killer (NK) cells are responsible for killing harmful cells in the body. This includes the body’s own cells that are infected with viruses, and other immune cells that inappropriately attack our own body (autoimmune cells).
Previous work by Dr Nicole Fewings and colleagues has found that in some people with MS, their NK cells are not working properly. In a laboratory model of MS, they have also that malfunction of NK cells are associated with increased MS relapses.
In this Project Grant Dr Fewings and her team will determine if NK cells from people with MS are able to kill cells infected with viruses, and/or autoimmune cells, in the laboratory. A number of drugs that enhance the function of NK cells have been approved to treat cancer. Dr Fewings will investigate if these drugs can be repurposed to improve the function of NK cells in people with MS to kill cells infected with viruses, and/or autoimmune cells.
Dr Fewings and her team have developed a test to characterise and compare different subsets of NK cells. This technique involves passing the cells past a laser that allows them to detect over 21 different properties of the cells and they have used this to characterise 75 blood samples (39 samples from people with MS and 36 samples from people without MS). Dr Fewings and her team have also developed a pipeline to analyse the results of this and have found that there is a subset of NK cells that are different in people with MS compared to people without MS. They are continuing to analyse the results to determine if there are more differences in NK cells between people with MS and without MS. Findings from this could potentially be used as targets for new MS treatments.
They have also generated a system using cells grown in the laboratory to examine Epstein Barr Virus (EBV) infection of B cells. This virus plays an important role in the development of MS, but the exact mechanisms by which it influences susceptibility to MS remains unclear. Dr Fewings and her team will use this system to see whether NK cells from people with and without MS can effectively kill B cells that are infected with EBV, and whether this might be a mechanism by which EBV plays a role in MS.
They will then use drugs to try and bolster the ability of NK cells to kill EBV-infected cells and see whether this will improve the capacity of NK cells from people with MS to kill EBV-infected cells, or autoimmune cells.
Dr Fewings and her team have also developed collaborations as a result of this work, and the findings have been presented at national and international conferences. A manuscript is currently in preparation for publication.
Updated: 11 June 2020
Updated: 05 January, 2018