The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is funding a study of a potentially groundbreaking treatment method for mesothelioma. The $10.7 Million award will be given over 5 years to the Translational Center of Excellence for Lung Cancer Immunology, which is based at the University of Pennsylvania. In this study, researchers will examine an innovative way to attack mesothelioma and other forms of lung cancer using chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T cells.
This initiative is promising because these immune cells have already been used to treat other kinds of cancer, like leukemia and lymphoma. Mesothelioma is a devastating form of cancer caused by exclusively by asbestos fibers, which get trapped in the pleural lining of the lungs (and other vital organs). Since mesothelioma can be difficult to detect and is often found in its late stages, this new treatment could make a crucial difference in the lives of thousands of mesothelioma victims across the United States.
What Are CAR-T Cells?
In this study, CAR-T cells will be used to boost a cancer patient’s immune system through genetic engineering. Doctors gather the patient’s own T-cells, and then alter them so the cells are programmed to find a certain substance in the tumor. The doctors then inject the patient with their own modified T-cells, which can destroy the tumor without weakening the patient’s immune system.
According to Dr. Steven M. Albelda, who is heading the research team conducting this study, while CAR-T cells have been a useful treatment for some types of cancer, they are not effective with all forms.
“One of the issues with using CAR-T cells is that they only attack other cells with a target on them and not all tumor cells have targets. We are hoping to generate what is called the bystander effect so that the CAR-T cells attack those cells without a target.” – Dr. Steven M. Albelda
The CAR-T Studies
The funding provided by this grant will help researchers investigate a few different aspects of this new treatment method. First, they will explore whether CAR-T cells can help encourage other immune system cells to be more active, and to attack the tumor’s underlying structure. Additionally, the study will explore ways to make CAR-T cells more effective, and with less risk of harm to the patient. Researchers will also examine data collected from patients to analyze the success rate of different treatment methods.
Another doctor, Prasad Adusumilli, MD, is currently conducting a study at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center that focuses on mesothelioma and CAR-T cells. His research involves treating patients with CAR-T cells that recognize mesothelin, a protein found in mesothelioma, and pembrolizumab, which helps the body’s immune system fight tumors. To date, his trials suggest this method can be effective in some patients.
The Future of Mesothelioma Treatment
This study holds hope that doctors can continue to find new ways to use the body’s immune system to treat cancers such as mesothelioma. In Dr. Adusumilli’s study, CAR-T cells are being used in combination with chemotherapy as a way to help patients fight or slow tumor growth. Dr. Adusumilli stressed that it was important to start treatment early, right after diagnosis, for the best effect.
The problem with mesothelioma is that it can often take 20 to 50 years for patients to develop symptoms, and their respiratory problems are often assumed to have other causes before mesothelioma is discovered. By that time, the cancer is at a later stage that is more difficult to treat. That is why new treatments such as ones using CAR-T cells are crucial. Researchers may determine how to use them alone or in combination with other, more traditional therapies to fight this deadly disease.
In the end, this grant symbolizes $10.7 Million worth of hope for mesothelioma patients across the United States and the world.