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CAR-NK is the first Romanian project that advances the genetic engineering of cells of the immune system for the treatment of cancer. More specifically, Natural Killer (NK) cells, a particular type of white blood cells, normally responsible for eliminating emerging tumor cells, are armed with new genes encoding chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) that specifically bind molecules expressed by the cancerous cells on their surface. CARs are hybrid molecules that comprise different modules taken from different genes: a targeting module, usually a simplified antibody molecule, that binds specifically a molecule on the targeted cell, a transmembrane domain spanning the cellular membrane, and intracellular modules that activate cytotoxic cellular pathways upon binding of the targeting module to the intended target.
As certain types of cancers can express particular targets on their surface, immune cells such as NK or T cells can be modified to recognize and attack a specific type of malignant cell.
Unlike engineered T cells, which have been studied for several decades and have recently been approved commercially for clinical onco-therapies, NK cells have been less studied for this kind of applications, but show promise as an alternative to T cells for the treatment of malignancies.
The overarching aim of the project is to develop in Romania, through in-house and international expertise, research and innovation-development as well as treatment capacities in the field of onco-immunology.
The operational objectives of the project are to develop advanced personalized immunotherapies for various types of cancer based on CAR-NK cells and to create the first “off the shelf” human CAR-NK cell bank.