Researcher creates cancer killers

University researcher Dan Kaufman turned embryonic stem cells into killer blood cells.

Jamie VanGeest

New stem cells are killing cancer cells in a University lab.

University researcher Dan Kaufman created natural killer cells that might be capable of destroying human cancer cells.

At the Stem Cell Institute, Kaufman turned embryonic stem cells into lymphocytes, which are the body’s natural killer cells and part of the immune system.

For years, Kaufman’s research has focused on turning stem cells into different types of blood cells. He has been creating lymphocyte blood cells for the past year and a half.

“These killer cells help you fight infections and kill cancer cells,” Kaufman said

These natural killer cells are identical to the ones found in the human body, right down to the very last protein, he said.

So far, the killer cells have killed only cancer cells in Petri dishes, but Kaufman is hoping to start testing on mice in the next few months.

Researchers will place human cancer cells in mice. Some of the mice will also receive the killer cells. Kaufman said he will observe whether the mice with the killer cells live longer or the cancer disappears completely.

There will be hurdles to overcome before the killer cells can be used on humans, he said.

“I think that the potential is out there in the next five or so years,” Kaufman said.

Some students on campus are excited about the stem cell development.

“I’m for (stem cell research) because a lot of my family members have died of cancer,” said Michele Gressman, a physics and astrophysics junior.

Other students don’t think the moral implications are worth the risk.

“I am personally against killing embryos,” said psychology junior Eric Paulson. “I think it’s always better to prevent the disease by making lifestyle changes.”

When it comes to the controversy, Kaufman focuses on the research.

“I try to focus on the science here and not so much on the politics and the ethics,” he said.

It is unfortunate stem cell research has become a controversy, Kaufman said, because the cells used for this research came from stem cell lines that President George W. Bush approved in 2001. The embryos Kaufman is using would be destroyed anyway.

In the future, the Stem Cell Institute will focus on researching pancreas cells for diabetes and neural cells to treat illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease.