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An Inhaled Vaccine Could Potentially Help Mesothelioma Patients in the Future

Published: April 16, 2021

An inhaled vaccine could be used for mesothelioma treatment soon. Research done at MIT is showing that the inhaled vaccine can trigger an immune response for certain infections and possibly lung-based cancers. This is great news for people with mesothelioma. Lung infections typically start on mucosal membranes, so researchers created a vaccine that can bind to a specific protein in mucus. To test it, mice were immunized in a way that mimics an inhaled vaccine, leading to their lungs creating T-cells (the cells that fight infection and cancer). There is no cure for mesothelioma and as of right now, there is no way to vaccinate against it, but a vaccine could give populations with a high risk of developing mesothelioma access to T-cells. This would in theory prevent mesothelioma tumors from being formed.

Vaccines are a great tool for fighting cancer because they can create an immune response to fight it. T-cells can detect rogue cancer cells before they turn into tumors. Inhaled vaccines are beneficial in this case because they can go directly to the lungs compared to regular vaccines that are inserted into muscle. Since pleural mesothelioma is very close to the lungs, a vaccine applied to the lungs can be more beneficial. The MIT researchers believe that if T-cells are brought to the mucosal membrane, the cancer cells could be stopped before spreading.

The researchers used albumin to bring the proper protein across the mucosal barrier. Vaccines given through the muscle are able to create an immune response at mucosal surfaces, but vaccines administered at the mucosal surface can create a better response. The simulated vaccine proved that this is the case.

Researchers created a peptide vaccine for the vaccinia virus to test their theory. The vaccine had a tail that binds itself to albumin. The vaccine was given either directly to the trachea to simulate it being inhaled or as a muscle injection. The mice who had the vaccine applied through the trachea had 25 times the T-cells in their lungs.  This vaccine strategy was also tested with melanoma. The immunized mice were exposed to melanoma cells, which were then killed by T-cells in the lungs.

Mesothelioma is a cancer of the mesothelium that surrounds different organs. In the case of pleural mesothelioma, it surrounds the lungs and is caused by inhalation of asbestos fibers. The fibers go through the lungs into mesothelial tissue once inhaled. There is no cure but there are treatments available to try to extend patients’ lives and improve quality of life.

Kavya Rakhra et. al., “Exploiting albumin as a mucosal vaccine chaperone for robust generation of lung-resident memory T cells” Science Immunology (March 19, 2021). [Link]
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