Mesothelial cells are found in the lining of major organs such as the chest or the abdomen. When asbestos fibers are inhaled or ingested, they slice through the soft tissue and become embedded in the lining of these organs. These fibers cause genetic mutations in the mesothelial cells which then cause the cells to reproduce uncontrollably – producing tumors. Initially the immune system is able to fight and correct the mutated mesothelial cells, but because of the unique way these tumors develop, mesothelioma cells eventually produce faster than the immune system can effectively fight and the tumor prevails. Over time, these tumors spread across the lung or the abdomen.
Typically, by the time mesothelioma is detected, the disease is already advanced – the tumors have spread uncontrollably and its aggressive nature makes it difficult to treat. Initial treatments often involve combination therapy of surgery and chemotherapy, with cisplatin being the most common chemotherapy treatment. However, chemotherapy can be largely ineffective when it comes to fighting mesothelioma for a myriad of reasons. Some cancer cells are naturally resistant to chemotherapy. Other tumors may initially respond to the first few rounds of chemotherapy treatment, but eventually become resistant. Mesothelioma cells are also able to repair damage caused by cisplatin and even alter their DNA so cisplatin is unable to form a bond to the cancer cell.
A recent study published in Scientific Reports investigated mesothelioma’s chemotherapy resistance with a metal based compound known as RAPTA-T. Ruthenium is a transition metal that is chemically inactive to most other chemicals and has anti- cancer properties. In this particular Swiss study, a mouse xenograft model of pleural mesothelioma was utilized and showed that RAPTA-T was able to improve the blood flow and oxygenation in the mesothelial tumors. This causes the tumors to “open up” and ultimately be more receptive to receiving chemotherapy. The chemotherapy treatments now have the chance to actually make an impact on the infected cells and patients have a chance for survival.
Treating mesothelioma is more than just finding the right combination of chemotherapy and surgery, or being treated radiation therapy or immunotherapy. The fight to control mesothelioma begins on a cellular level, where scientists and researchers aim to understand the nature of this disease from its inception. In doing so, scientists and researchers are able to look at mesothelioma from all angles, not just how to treat, but how to attack, control, and hopefully prevent.
Riedel, T “Chemo-Manipulation of Tumor Blood Vessels by a Metal-Based Anticancer Complex Enhances Antitumor Therapy,” Scientific Reports (July 6, 2018). [Link]