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Experimental Mesothelioma Treatment Produces “Strong Antitumor Activity”

Italian scientists have released some potentially exciting news detailing their experiments with a new kind of treatment for malignant mesothelioma. The combination treatment uses elements of traditional Chinese medicine as well as a natural compound isolated from a marine sponge.

Led by chemists from the University of Milan, the experiments involved giving the combination to mice carrying human mesothelioma tumors.

While standard chemotherapy has only a moderate impact on most mesothelioma tumors and can trigger a range of potentially serious side effects, the Italian team reports “strong antitumor activity” and “very high tolerability” with the experimental treatment.

Fighting Mesothelioma with Natural Compounds

Two primary compounds were used to create the new mesothelioma treatment combination. The first is a derivative of camptothecin. Camptothecin comes from the bark and stem of the Camptotheca or Chinese “Happy Tree”. Because the natural version has low solubility, chemists have developed more effective synthetic versions. Two CPT analogues have already been approved for use in cancer chemotherapy.

The second compound used in this experimental mesothelioma therapy is Psammaplin A, a natural product isolated from a type of sea sponge (Psammaplysilla purpurea). The compound has been shown to have antibiotic and antifungal properties, and to inhibit an enzyme that helps tumors form new blood cells and spread to other parts of the body.

By putting these two powerful compounds together, the Italian team created a “dual action” drug for mesothelioma that attacks the asbestos cancer from two different angles. According to a new report in the European Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, the combination showed “a broad spectrum of antiproliferative activity”.

“Preliminary in vivo results indicated a strong antitumor activity on human mesothelioma primary cell line MM473…and very high tolerability,” writes lead author Rafaella Cincinelli, PhD, with the Department of Food, Environmental and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Milan.

Overcoming Pleural Mesothelioma Treatment Resistance

Although the new treatment combination will have to undergo further testing, including human trials, before it could become a treatment option for patients with mesothelioma, it is representative of the kind of research going on around the globe focused on curing this deadly cancer.

Even though doctors have known for decades that asbestos is usually the cause of malignant mesothelioma, they have been unable to significantly extend mesothelioma survival with any current cancer treatments.

A growing number of mesothelioma researchers are turning their focus toward alternatives such as traditional medicine, complementary therapies, and immunotherapy to improve patient outcomes.


Cincinelli, R, et al, “Camptothecin-psammaplin A hybrids as topoisomerase I and HDAC dual-action inhibitors”, January 1, 2018, European Journal of Medicinal Chemistry

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