A natural killer cell, or NK cell, is a white blood cell that can destroy tumour cells or those infected with a virus. Type I interferons (IFNs) are key in activating NK cells. But type I IFNs can also cause an inappropriate immune response to some acute viral infections.
As Canada Research Chair in Innate Immunity and Natural Killer Cell Function, Dr. Ali Ashkar is determining how type I IFNs and NK cells respond after viral infections to manage the immune system and prevent it from overreacting. He and his research team are working to better understand the factors that control whether immune responses are protective versus destructive in order to develop safe and effective cancer treatments based on NK cells. They are also determining how solid-tumour microenvironments can render some immune cells dysfunctional, particularly NK cells.