From the blog

Immunotherapy Treatment for Mesothelioma Could Become Safer and More Effective

Published: July 9, 2021

Research could help create better and safer immunotherapy treatments for mesothelioma. Immunotherapy is a fast growing and exciting way to treat cancer because it uses the body’s own immune system to treat cancer instead of harmful drugs like chemotherapy.  Immunotherapy can be way more effective than typical treatments, but it can also have very bad side effects. Research is showing that these complications could be reduced when treating mesothelioma. To do this it is important to target the white blood cells in the body that cause inflammation. The majority of side effects are from inflammation, so reducing these can take away a wide range of bad treatment caused side effects.

Mesothelioma treatment has not evolved much over time. There are treatments available, but the best one can hope for is to extend their life by months, not years. The typical treatment is chemotherapy and if the patient is well enough, surgery. This can help, but mesothelioma patients inevitably succumb to their illness. This is why researchers have been looking for immunotherapy treatments for the disease. If the immune system can be utilized, patients have a better chance of extending their lives.

There are already immunotherapy treatments for mesothelioma, but the treatments can cause reactions so severe that the patient has to stop treatment. The immunotherapy treatment ends up hurting healthy tissue in addition to the cancerous tissue, which is counterintuitive and harmful to the patient. Doctors researching this type of treatment need to find a way to confine the effects to mesothelioma cells. If they can do this, this treatment would become safer and more effective.

The research is being done at the University of Geneva in Switzerland and Harvard Medical School. The researchers were able to distinguish the cancer-fighting immune response and the damaging immune reaction. The researchers looked at the biopsy samples of liver cancer patients who had a toxic reaction to immunotherapy. The cell populations for mesothelioma and liver are different, but their immune responses are similar, which is why they were studied. When the inflammatory response is activated, macrophages and neutrophils become activated and end up hurting healthy tissue. Dendritic cells are also present, but they are the cells that fight cancer cells. Knowing this, researchers can hopefully find ways to activate the dendritic cells while keeping macrophages and neutrophils at bay. It is also beneficial to reduce neutrophils because they can help tumors grow. If they are managed properly, a toxic response can be avoided and tumor cell growth can be inhibited.

Marie Siwicki et al., “Resident Kupffer cells and neutrophils drive liver toxicity in cancer immunotherapy” Science Immunology (July 2, 2021). [Link]
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