Natural Killer Cells: Wiping Out Cancer … Is Coronavirus Next?


ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire)— They’re called natural killer cells—cells in the body that search out and destroy dangerous cells that have mutated, like cancer. Now, scientists at the University of Central Florida say the technology that boosts the body’s cancer-fighting immunity may also help fight COVID-19.

Scientists describe these as assassins in the human body. Malignant, or dangerous cells are seen here in color.  Watch what happens when the natural killer cells find them.

Alicja Copik, PhD, immunologist at University of Central Florida College of Medicine explained to Ivanhoe, “If you see, in those videos, that the bad guys are being killed, removed, they lose their color. Then we know that the cells worked well.”

(Read Full Interview)

Copik developed the immunity-boosting technology that stimulates natural killer cells to increase in number and fight malignant cells while leaving healthy cells intact.

“Initially we started with leukemia, acute myeloid leukemia, and we found that the cells work very well,” elaborated Copik.

Scientists have also tested the cells in vitro on other types of cancer, including solid tumors. Now, Kiadis Pharma is testing Copik’s developed technology to see if natural killer cells will enhance the immune system to protect against viruses, like the coronavirus. Killer cells wiping out cancer and maybe COVID-19 in the process.

Kiadis Pharma is working with the Abigail Wexner Research Institute in Columbus to study the treatment of COVID-19 with the natural killer cell therapy. It’s currently in phase one of clinical trials.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Executive & Field Producer; Matt Goldschmidt, Videographer; Roque Correa, Editor.

To receive a free weekly e-mail on Medical Breakthroughs from Ivanhoe, sign up at:






REPORT:  MB #4861

CELLS: A cell is a membrane unit that contains the fundamental building blocks of all living things. A single cell is often a complete organism. Other cells acquire specialized functions as they mature. These cells cooperate with other specialized cells and become the building blocks of large multicellular organisms, such as humans and other animals. The human body is composed of trillions of cells. They provide structure for the body, take in nutrients from food, convert those nutrients into energy, and carry out specialized functions. Cells also contain the body’s hereditary material and can make copies of themselves. Human cells contain the cytoplasm which is made up of a jelly-like fluid and other structures that surround the nucleus: the cytoskeleton which is a network of long fibers that make up the cell’s structural framework, the organelle which helps process molecules created by the cell, the endoplasmic reticulum transports these molecules to their specific destinations both inside or outside the cell, the Golgi apparatus packages the molecules processed by the endoplasmic reticulum to be transported out of the cell, organelles mitochondria are complex organelles that convert energy from food into a form that the cell can use, the nucleus serves as the cell’s command center, sending directions to the cell to grow, mature, divide, or die, the plasma membrane is the outer lining of the cell, and ribosomes are organelles that process the cell’s genetic instructions to create proteins.


NATURAL KILLER CELLS: Natural killer cells are a type of lymphocyte or white blood cell and a component of the immune system. Natural killer cells play a major role in the rejection of both tumors and virally infected cells. They serve to contain viral infections while the immune response is generating antigen-specific cytotoxic T cells that can clear the infection. Natural killer cells are initially developed within the primary lymphoid tissue of the bone marrow where they undergo positive and negative selection to remove self-targeting cells. Once the natural killer cells have matured, they move to secondary lymphoid tissues to undergo terminal maturation. Scientists have suggested harnessing natural killer cells’ function to treat cancer cells. White blood cells are initially collected from the patient, activated, and allowed to proliferate. They are then reintroduced into the body to target the cancerous cells.


NATURAL KILLER CELLS AND COVID-19: University of Central Florida cancer researcher Alicja Copik and her research team have created an immunity boosting therapy that stimulates natural killer cells with nanoparticles to increase their numbers and the killing ability of viruses like COVID-19 and tumors. For this treatment, the cells are grown in a laboratory, put in a bag, and injected into a patient. From the bloodstream they seek out the virally infected cells in the patient and remove them. Says Copik, “These cells have evolved for zillions of years to recognize and kill viruses so there is a lot of evolution that made them good and they do not just kill one virus, but multiple viruses. They are natural but of course, we need to have a way to use them therapeutically and now we are at the point where that might be possible.” Alicja Copik continued, “I think they are an amazing cell type that has huge potential for the future treatment of cancer and potential viral diseases. So, we are excited. This is just the start of the journey because there is much more we can do, and these cells can do for us.”

(Sources:, Alicja Copik, PhD, Immunologist, University of Central Florida College of Medicine)




If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at

Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Alicja Copik, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine

Read the entire Q&A