Cancer researchers across the world have taken notice of mesothelioma and are keen to develop new treatment options and discover a cure. With so much still to learn about mesothelioma, this ongoing treatment research is a critical investment in the nation’s future.
Research for Mesothelioma Treatments
Mesothelioma treatment research occurs on numerous frontiers, and the following therapies are all being investigated in the journey towards a cure:
- Photodynamic therapy
- Drug therapy
- Gene therapy
- Virus therapy
- Surgical techniques
Mesothelioma research takes place all over the world and in a wide variety of forms. Surgeons, oncologists, scientists and other mesothelioma specialists are combating the disease from numerous angles. They re actively working towards improved prognosis for all forms of mesothelioma.
More than 100 clinical trials are currently underway.
Chemotherapy is the most recognized treatment for cancer and is often used in the treatment of mesothelioma. However, many mesothelioma patients who receive chemotherapy will only see positive short-term results, as the cancer has a high recurrence rate.
Cancer researchers are currently developing and testing new drugs and drug combinations that may improve survival rates for mesothelioma patients.
Even the most effective chemotherapy drugs for mesothelioma, including cisplatin and gemcitabine, continue to be researched as scientists attempt to find better chemo combinations.
Hyperthermic Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy (HIPEC)
Hyperthermic Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy (HIPEC) is a specialized form of chemotherapy, in which a chemo solution is placed inside a patient’s body, allowing the organs to be soaked in chemotherapy drugs.
HIPEC has proven to be highly effective at combating microscopic mesothelioma cells left behind after surgery.
However, research into HIPEC has been fairly limited with minimal published data, leaving room for future improvements to the therapy. Mesothelioma specialists continue to research the optimal drugs for the procedure, exactly when it should be administered and the specific treatment protocols that should be used.
Photodynamic therapy, also known as photoradiation, is a form of radiation that uses light to eliminate cancer. Patients receiving photodynamic therapy will first be injected with a light-sensitive solution, which naturally spreads through the body over the next few days. Next, light is placed inside the chest, activating the drug and causing a chemical reaction that destroys cancer cells.
Photodynamic therapy is less invasive than surgical techniques and tends to have fewer side effects than pharmaceutical options. However, it’s currently limited in reach, as it can only be applied to areas of the body that radiation can reach.
A handful of clinical trials are currently evaluating photodynamic therapy as a mesothelioma treatment option, combining the therapy with surgical and chemotherapy treatments. Upcoming photodynamic therapy research may also include the use of radioactive nanoparticles to help target mesothelioma cells.
Biological therapy is a treatment that modifies or disrupts the way cells work. Because mesothelioma and other forms of cancer are cells that have mutated out of control, focusing on the biological nature of cells allows researchers to develop creative strategies for defeating it. Types of biological therapy include immunotherapy, virus therapy and gene therapy.
Immunotherapy attempts to increase the productivity of the immune system, essentially giving a super boost to natural defense systems.
Immunotherapy can work in different ways, and several options are currently being explored as potential mesothelioma treatments.
With a form of immunotherapy called cancer vaccines, a patient’s immune cells will be used to create a vaccine that can fight mesothelioma. The procedure involves removing cells from the patient, exposing the cells to mesothelioma in a lab and then creating a vaccine that’s ready to fight mesothelioma cells. The vaccine is then injected into the same patient the immune cells were drawn from.
Another type of immunotherapy uses pharmaceuticals to teach the body’s immune system to aggressively attack tumor cells. Tremelimumab is one of the drugs being explored in a variety of clinical trials, several of which focus solely on mesothelioma.
Virotherapy is an emerging treatment option that is being tested for a variety of cancers, including mesothelioma.
With virus therapies, scientists inject patients with a virus that has been designed to locate, infect and destroy cancer cells.
These viruses can reach parts of the body that other therapies cannot, and potentially kill off dangerous cells. While an intriguing development in mesothelioma research, virus therapy is still in the early stages of development.
Genetic therapy attempts to manipulate existing cancer cells by adding new genes to mesothelioma cells’ DNA.
The biggest challenge in gene therapy is getting the new genes into existing cancer cells. Researchers are exploring the use of viruses to deliver genes to cells, as well as bacteria. When using viruses, scientists manipulate the virus to seek out mesothelioma cells, attempting to debilitate the virus and minimize negative side-effects.
There are several types of gene therapy being investigated in cancer research:
- Modifying cells to have stronger reactions to treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy
- Genetic therapy can reverse the cell-death process that cancer blocks, essentially forcing cancer cells to die at the end of a cell’s ordinary life cycle
- Pro drug therapies transform a previously injected drug from “inactive” to “active” status, essentially turning on the effects of a targeted drug
- Viruses can be created that infect and destroy cancer cells from within
Improving Surgical Treatment Approaches
Surgeons continue to research which surgical treatment options are best for mesothelioma patients. Pleural mesothelioma, in particular, is surrounded by controversy. Many surgeons across the nation are divided on whether extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP) or pleurectomy with decortication (P/D) is the best approach. As a result, surgeons continue to carefully document their techniques, outcomes and predictions for the future.
In addition, not all patients are candidates for surgical intervention. Both EPP and P/D are significant operations, which carry high risks and require lengthy recovery times. Research into surgical techniques is likely to continue until a definitive cure for mesothelioma is discovered.
Cancer researchers continue to review and improve existing surgical approaches to mesothelioma, including Dr. David Sugarbaker’s trimodal approach. While a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy have extended the lives of many mesothelioma patients, the overall long-term survival rates are still staggeringly low and leave significant room for improvement.
Researchers are still trying to determine the best combination of surgery and complementary therapies possible for each mesothelioma type and stage.
As new treatments like immunotherapy show promising results in clinical trials, their role is also being considered within existing comprehensive surgical approaches. Some researchers believe that the cure for certain types of mesothelioma has been discovered and just need treatments to be combined in the right way.
Fluid can build up within the linings of mesothelioma patients’ lungs, requiring a pleural effusion. A pleurodesis surgical procedure involves draining the fluid and sticking the lining layers back together, and is a relatively complex surgery.
Mesothelioma researchers are currently investigating alternative methods of draining the fluid and repairing the lungs, including video-assisted partial pleurectomy—a small catheter inserted into the lung, and drugs that can drain fluid without surgical intervention.
These studies are currently being reviewed as clinical trials and may become common treatment options in the future.
Detection and Diagnostic Mesothelioma Research
Alongside treatment research, scientists are also exploring new methods for detecting and diagnosing mesothelioma.
Several major tissue banks have been created throughout the world, allowing mesothelioma specialists to collect blood, DNA and tumor samples, and study them in a laboratory setting.
These mesothelioma samples are used to identify and observe cell subtypes, test genetics, screen for biomarkers and otherwise improve researchers’ understanding of mesothelioma.
This work is incredibly important as it helps researchers to:
- Identify biomarkers that may lead mesothelioma
- Detect mesothelioma in early stages, when it’s easiest to treat
- Develop treatment plans based on cell types and subtypes
- Test potential therapies in a laboratory setting
Developing a Cure for Mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is a heartbreaking disease with a worse prognosis than many other forms of cancer. However, research has advanced significantly over the past few decades. When mesothelioma was first discovered, patients almost never lived longer than 6 months.
Today, there are patients who were diagnosed with mesothelioma 10 years ago and are still alive with an excellent quality of life.
These advancements are because of the mesothelioma specialists and brave patients who have dedicated their lives to beating cancer. Clinical trials are a critical part of this process, giving cancer researchers the opportunity to test new ideas and develop innovative solutions, including photodynamic therapy, immunotherapy and virotherapy.
Cancer research into biological and cell therapies are extraordinarily promising and scientists now believe it’s only a matter of time before mesothelioma is cured.
If you’ve been diagnosed with mesothelioma and you have questions about how to undergo the latest treatment methods and approaches then contact our Patient Advocates to learn more.