A new type of immunotherapy for treating mesothelioma is providing hope following a study in which the treatment eradicated advanced-stage mesothelioma tumors in mice in just a few days. Mesothelioma is an aggressive and deadly type of cancer caused by asbestos exposure that is difficult to treat completely by surgical resection. The new potential treatment combined Rice University’s cytokine “drug factory” implants and a checkpoint inhibitor drug.
About the Research Study
In the study, researchers administered tiny drug-producing beads next to tumors where they could produce continuous, high doses of a natural compound that activates white blood cells to fight cancer.
The beads are loaded with tens of thousands of cells that are genetically engineered to produce natural IL-2, one of two cytokines the FDA has approved for the treatment of cancer. A cytokine is a type of protein that influences the immune system. They can be made in a laboratory and can be used to help the body fight cancer, infections, and other diseases. The drug-producing beads are 1.5 millimeters wide and can be implanted with minimally invasive surgery to deliver high doses of IL-2 directly to tumors.
In the mesothelioma research study, the beads were placed beside tumors and inside the thin layer of tissue known as the pleura, which covers the lungs and lines the interior wall of the chest. The drug implants were tested both on their own and in conjunction with a checkpoint inhibitor. Checkpoint inhibitors train the immune system to recognize and destroy cancer cells.
When used on their own, the drug implants eliminated tumors in more than 50 percent of the mice. However, when the mice were treated with a combination of drug implants and checkpoint inhibitors, their tumors were completely destroyed.
One of the researchers noted that the study’s results suggest that a combination of IL-2-producing implants and checkpoint inhibitors could be effective at training cells to reactivate the immune system to fight mesothelioma if it recurs.
What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that can develop in the lining of the lungs, abdomen, heart, or testicles.
Pleural mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer that grows around the lining of the lungs and chest. Because it is very difficult to treat surgically, there is often residual disease left behind. This underscores the importance of finding ways to treat the disease through immunotherapy. People diagnosed with mesothelioma have an overall five-year survival rate of 10 percent, as it is usually diagnosed at a late stage.
What Causes Mesothelioma?
Asbestos exposure is the main cause of mesothelioma; about eight out of 10 people with the disease have been exposed to asbestos. When a person breathes in asbestos fibers, the particles settle in their lungs, where they can cause inflammation and scarring. There may also be cell changes that lead to cancer. If swallowed, asbestos fibers can reach the abdominal lining.
Symptoms of mesothelioma include:
- Persistent cough
- Chest pain
- Difficulty swallowing
- Lower back pain
- Swollen face and arms
- Unexplained weight loss
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