Genetic Modification of NK cells for Optimized Functions against Cancer – Arnika Wagner team

Our research focuses on the biology of human NK cells and opportunities to optimize their functions in the therapy of cancer

The team is part of the Cell & Gene Therapy Group at the Center for Hematology and Regenerative Medicine (HERM).

Our focus

The team strives to optimize NK cell functions for cell therapy against cancer. Our research can be divided into three areas, optimization of NK cell genetic modification, development of novel chimeric receptors for improved tumor-targeting, and dissection of genes important for distinct NK cell functions. 

Our main interest is to understand how NK cell functions against cancer can be improved and harnessed in cellular therapy. 

NK cells have recently gained attention as a promising tool for cancer immunotherapy. These cells can rapidly kill multiple tumor cells through non-MHC-restrictive effects and can recruit both innate and adaptive immune cells through the secretion of cytokines and chemokines. Equipping NK cells with additional natural or chimeric receptors has been shown to enhance tumor-targeting activity. However, due to their central role in anti-viral defense, NK cells are inherently resistant to any introduction of genetic material. To enable feasible generation of NK cell therapeutic products, we constantly strive to optimize means of genetic modification. Furthermore, we focus on developing novel chimeric receptors that synergize with inherent functions of NK cells for optimal anti-cancer activity. Some of the receptors enhance tumor-targeting and -killing capacity, while others are designed to facilitate NK cell engraftment after infusion, especially when used in combination therapies. In addition, we are interested in molecules that segregate pathways leading to target cell killing from other NK cell functions such as cytokine production, aiming at developing an NK cell product with improved killing capacity of cancer cells. 

Towards these goals, we combine molecular biology, genetic modification, flow cytometry, proliferation and cytotoxicity assays, and CRISPR screening to assess pathways leading to enhanced killing, improved genetic modification and enhanced resistance to immune suppressive cues.   

Our vision is that our generated knowledge will be translated into development and optimization of next-generation NK cell therapy against cancer.  

Open Positions

Postdoctoral Fellow

We are currently seeking a highly motivated and ambitious PhD candidate for our Team. You will find more information and the possibility to apply through the Varbi system.

Research support

  • KI funding for doctoral education (KID)
  • CIMED 
  • Karolinska Institutets forskningsfonder
  • Åke Wibergs Stiftelse
  • Åke Olsson Stiftelse
  • Vetenskapsrådet (VR)
  • European Hematology Association (EHA)


Selected publications

Staff and contact

Group leader

All members of the group

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Anders Norman

Research Engineer
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Nutsa Burduli

Phd Student

Previous team members

  • Joanna Tsialta, Internship student (January-September 2021)
  • Hanna Briesch, Master student (May-September 2021)
  • Jason Clochard, Research Assistant (January-November 2022)
  • Hendrik Schürer, Visiting Researcher (August 2022-March 2023)
  • Anna Pumpe, Master student (March-September 2023)