ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — As thousands of Americans contract the coronavirus every day, there’s been a rush to develop new treatments and therapies to treat the virus in addition to the vaccines to prevent people from getting it.

What You Need To Know

  • For years, Dr. Alicja Copik and her team of researchers have been working with natural killer cells

  • The team has worked to use them as a way to fight cancer

  • Now, the NK cells may be used to treat the coronavirus

  • More: Therapeutic Management of Patients with COVID-19

One of the potential therapies showing promise to fight it was developed by researchers in Central Florida. 

“This is really exciting for us,” said Dr. Alicja Copik, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Central Florida College of Medicine. 

For years, Copik and her team of researchers at UCF have worked with natural killer, or NK, cells. She worked to develop a method to use them as a way to fight cancer.  Now, that same therapy could potentially be used in the fight against coronavirus. 

“We have really staggering numbers of people dying from coronavirus, so it would be really exciting to be able to help,” Copik said. 

Copik says research on severe coronavirus patients as early as March found many had low numbers of lymphocytes, particularly NK cells. 

“There is rationale for using NK cells that might not be functioning well in those patients that develop severe disease to actually treat COVID,” Copik said. 

Copik and her team spent years figuring out exactly how to grow those NK cells in a lab to create large amounts for future therapy use.

“NK cells are a part of our immune system, so we already have natural killer cells. In this treatment, the cells would be grown in a laboratory, put in a bag and injected to a patient. So it would be similar to getting a blood transfusion,” Copik said. "From the bloodstream, they’ll go around the patient to seek out the virally infected cells and remove them."

It’s work they started years earlier, well before the pandemic. Now, that methodology developed is being tested by Kiadis Pharma, one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies, in clinical trials. 

Copik and her team at UCF are all anxiously awaiting the results from those trials, hopeful what they developed can help in the fight against COVID-19. 

“This is really exciting," Copik said. "We can’t wait to hear when the first patients are injected and start hopefully benefiting from NK cells."