From the blog

Immunotherapy brings new treatment options to mesothelioma patients

Published: November 12, 2014

Named breakthrough of the year by Science Magazine in 2013, immunotherapy is a new option for treating cancer, but not without speculation and concern. This new treatment is limited to a few types of cancers, but the remarkable results found from clinical trial data shows promise for the future.

Immunotherapy uses the body to battle cancer by employing the immune system to fight back against tumors. Multiple methods exist, including adoptive immunotherapy and the drug Yervoy. It’s becoming a ‘fifth pillar’ of cancer treatments given the promise. The three main pillars – chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy – still remain the standard treatments for most patients.

In adoptive immunotherapy, T cells (immune system cells) are removed from the patient, grown in a lab and injected back into the body to combat the cancer. Yervoy is used for patients with metastic melanoma. By connecting CTLA-4 (a protein that halts T cells), those cells are released to destroy the cancerous cells.

Recent studies found great success with blood cancers, like leukemia, but others with hard tumors are more resistant to the blood stream injections.

Mesothelioma, a rare cancer with hard tumors, proved one of the more challenging and caused researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York to attempt different delivery methods for the modified white blood cells.

By injecting the T cells directly into the area around the tumor, the scientists found the cells thrived. They eliminated the cancer and then stayed and continued to fight off growing cancer cells. The T cells see the cancer cells as enemies and immediately attack while energizing other T cells to do the same.

This study was conducted using human T cells and a mouse with tumors, but the success helps pave the way for clinical trials. If approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the mesothelioma clinical trials could begin as early as next year.

Every year, around 3,000 people are diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma in the United States. It has one known cause – asbestos exposure. The tumors inhabit the pleural cavity around the lungs, as well as other areas including ovaries, pancreas and breasts. Other asbestos cancers include lung cancer, colon cancer, laryngeal cancer and diseases like asbestosis.

When dealing with a cancer like mesothelioma with a terrible prognosis and limited treatment options, immunotherapy could breathe new life into those diagnosed.

  • Kevin McLaughlin, “The promise of immunotherapy,” Cancer Today (March 28, 20140. [Link]
  • Geoffrey Mohan, “Genetically modified cells learn to fight mesothelioma,” LA Times (Nov. 5, 2014). [Link]
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