Natural killer (NK) cells are immune cells that form a first line of defence against viral infections
and cancer by eliminating affected cells. Researchers recognized the significance of this cytotoxic
potential and verified that after transfer into patients, these cells are able to kill tumour cells
without harming healthy tissues. Cancer is characterized by uncontrolled cell growth and affects
millions of patients worldwide. Currently, NK cells play a crucial role in the treatment of leukaemia
by means of haploidentical bone marrow transplantation. Moreover, research is exploring
alternative NK cell therapies for the treatment of leukaemia in addition to other types of cancer.
Like NK cells, innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) are at the front-line of host defence and indirectly raise
immune responses against pathogens such as bacteria, viruses and helminths. In recent years, it
became clear that ILCs exert a dual function. They were shown to be associated with clearance as
well as causation of pathology like Crohn’s disease. In order to improve our understanding on the
cause and course of these disorders, we must study fundamental processes regulating
differentiation of human hematopoietic stem cells into NK cell and ILCs, which has already been
done extensively in mice in contrast to humans. Therefore, this project will yield cutting-edge
findings on ILC1 development and on specific intermediate stages of human NK and ILC
differentiation that will improve current therapies.