Regulation of Natural killer cells in peripheral blood and tissue   

Study code

Lead researcher
Dr Andrew M Sharkey

Study type
Participant re-contact

Institution or company
University of Cambridge

Researcher type

Speciality area


Our work aims to understand how the function of a type of immune cell, known as a natural killer or ‘NK’ cell is controlled. These NK cells are normally found circulating in the blood and in many tissues of the body. NK cells have an intrinsic ability to recognise and kill cancerous or virus-infected cells without prior immunisation - hence their name ‘natural killers’.  

One mechanism by which NK cells sense abnormal cells, involves highly variable receptors from a family of genes known as the KIR receptors. These can activate or inhibit NK cells depending on how they bind to the cells around them. Because nearly everyone has different variants of the KIR genes, our responses to viruses, cancer and even pregnancy are different from person to person.  

The goal of our project is to compare how the actions of NK cells from blood and various tissues are controlled by these KIR receptors.  However the variation of KIR makes NK cells difficult to compare between individuals. One solution to this problem is to compare how NK cells function in individuals who have similar KIR genes. This removes an important source of variation in our experiments.  

This is why we are asking you to donate some blood. Based on a screen of several hundred donors in the BioResource, we have identified a small group who have similar KIR genes. We will isolate your blood NK cells and compare how they function, with NK cells isolated from others with similar KIR genes. 

The aim of our work is to identify how protective and useful NK responses can be generated in NK cells. We hope this can help us develop new treatments for infection, cancer and transplantation