The advent of modern synthetic-biology tools has enabled the development of cellular treatments with engineered specificity, leading to a new paradigm in anticancer immunotherapy. T cells have been at the forefront of such development, with six chimeric antigen receptor–modified T-cell products approved by the FDA for the treatment of hematologic malignancies in the last 5 years. Natural killer (NK) cells are innate lymphocytes with potent cytotoxic activities, and they have become an increasingly attractive alternative to T-cell therapies due to their potential for allogeneic, “off-the-shelf” applications. However, both T cells and NK cells face numerous challenges, including antigen escape, the immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment, and potential for severe toxicity. Many synthetic-biology strategies have been developed to address these obstacles, most commonly in the T-cell context. In this review, we discuss the array of strategies developed to date, their application in the NK-cell context, as well as opportunities and challenges for clinical translation.

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