Finding A Cure For Mesothelioma
Researchers and disease specialists think that finding a cure for mesothelioma is no longer an unrealistic dream. Immunotherapy, gene therapy, clinic trials, better drugs and taking a multimodal approach have all changed the mesothelioma diagnosis in the past decade.
Every year there are millions of dollars that are allocated through funds and grants to develop new mesothelioma treatments which could lead to a cure. Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer and research on treating this disease is supported and funded by different grants from the National Cancer Institute. The National Cancer Institute is a federal agency and it dictates how monetary funds are allocated to cancer research projects.
In the last decade, approximately 58 million dollars has been allocated for mesothelioma research. Some special grants and funds have also been allocated from groups to research specific projects in mesothelioma treatment:
- The Larry Davis Grant – Joost Hegmans received the Larry Davis Memorial Grand which awarded $500,00 to research how white blood cells inside tissue can be a factor in terms of finding pleural mesothelioma. These immune system cells account for 60% of tumor mass and are associated with the progression of the tumor.
- The Bankhead Family Fund – This grant awarded $500,000 to ll-Jin Kim who is researching how different changes occur int chromosmes when malignant pleural mesothelioma starts to overtake the body. Researchers want to understand the role of oncogenic fusions in the body play a role in mesothelioma development.
Private Organizations Funding Research
- Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation which offers research grants related to clinical trials that are not currently funded. Every year they award $100,000 to 5 groups.
- Pacific Meso Center aids in research grants and currently they are funding research for pleural mesothelioma at UCLA.
- International Mesothelioma Program (IMP) raises awareness and money about the treatments for patients with mesothelioma.
- American Cancer Society helps to raise money for awareness on all types of cancer including mesothelioma. They do this through word of mouth, rallies, and grants and make a huge impact on the lives of patients suffering from cancer.
Mesothelioma Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)
PDT uses light to kill cancerous cells and can improve life expectancy with less side effects. PDT is a new cancer treatment and doctors and researchers have been developing it into a workable treatment option. Just before surgery, the patient is given a drug that makes the cancer cells sensitive to a certain wavelength of light. The laser light activates the drug and kills mesothelioma cells.
Recently, studies have shown that the effects of photodynamic therapy can significantly increase a patient’s life expectancy when used in combination with chemotherapy or surgery.
A laser light is used to activate a light sensitive drug called a photosensitizer. The drug is administered by injection or through an IV and once light is applied to the tumor area, the drug is activated. The laser light is a thin fiber optic filament that will reflect light into the tumor. The laser light is passed through an endoscope and maneuvered to reach the tumor on the surface of the lungs.
The drug, usually Photofrin, is administered to the patient 1-3 days before the light therapy treatment. The mesothelioma cells hold the drug longer than the healthy cells which allows for fewer side effects during treatment.
Photodynamic Therapy – Pros vs Cons
There is always an upside and a down side to treatment. The pros in this case include things such as, the treatment is less invasive and can be safely used with other treatments. Also, it is more precise than both chemotherapy and radiation, and it only affects cells that have absorbed the photosensitizing drug. There are no long term side effects and can be used over and over again at the site of the tumor. Also important is the fact that it is more affordable than other treatments.
Some evidence illustrates that photodynamic therapy may damage tumor blood vessels. It also may activate the immune system encouraging them to fight the mesothelioma cells.
The few side effects that do occur are minimal. A patient may be extra sensitive to light, and have swelling at the side where the light was administered.
The down side is usually photodynamic therapy is only helpful for tumors on the surface like those related to skin cancer. PDT therapy can only be effective to areas that can be reached by light.
Intraoperative Photodynamic Therapy
During surgery, light can be applied directly to the tumors which are usually deeply embedded and scattered throughout the chest. PDT has a shorter recovery period that intraoperative radiation or chemotherapy, and is usually used along with a lung-sparing pleurectomy. Using PDT on the lung means there is lower toxicity to the lung and patient are able to maintain a higher quality of life.
Clinical trials are currently testing different modalities of treatment and producing results with fewer side effects will make this treatment a success.
Genetic Testing With Mesothelioma
Gene therapy is a term that relates to treatments that try to alter a gene’s function or structure. It is a very promising treatment that is being tested for a variety of diseases, including mesothelioma. The idea is that gene therapy will replace faulty genes with ones that work correctly.
Researchers have found that there may be a genetic link to whether or not a person will develop mesothelioma. This discovery may help with patient diagnosis and treatment. Not everyone exposed to asbestos ends up with mesothelioma and researchers think this may be partly because of DNA differences in those who have been exposed. Genetic research shows that there are some who may have a higher risk of developing the cancer.
Gene therapy can be addressed in three different ways:
- “Suicide” gene therapy alters the cancer cells and makes them susceptible to the effects of medications used to treat cancer. It does this by introducing genes that will replace the ones that are found in cancer cells.
- Genes may be introduced into the body in order to stop growth of blood cells that are food for cancer. In other words, “starve the cancer” and stop its spread.
- New genes are administered to the patient which replace the bad genes that let the cancer cells multiply, thus stopping the growth of tumors.
Studies need to be continued and evaluated before the FDA approves gene therapy as an available option for treatment. Gene therapy is safer for healthy cells than chemotherapy, but there are side effects and potential problems associated with the treatment. Patients’ immune systems may have a negative reaction to treatment which could cause several adverse reactions.
Some patients might experience the common symptoms that accompany infection after their treatment. Symptoms such as chills, nausea, vomiting, fever and headaches are common and usually subside with 48 hours. It is important to control these symptoms otherwise a negative immune system response could occur and reduce the effectiveness of the treatment.
Gene therapy is still a new treatment so long term side effects are unknown. One concern is that the modified genes many infect healthy cells which could potentially cause new diseases or cancers to appear.
This treatment was founded in 2008 when an article was printed in a German medical journal that involved a study that used “suicide” gene therapy in the treatment of mesothelioma. These studies were the basis for new treatments. Gene therapy trials are available for those who qualify.
- Galateau-Salle, Francoise. Pathology of Malignant Mesothelioma. Springer-Verlag London Limited: London. 2006.
- Pass, I., Vogelzang, N., Carbone, M. Malignant Mesothelioma: Advances in Pathogenesis, Diagnosis, and Transitional Therapies. Springer: New York. 2005.
- Clinical Trials information from the National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from: http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/home