The authors of an article to be published in the journal Current Treatment Options in Oncology say that malignant mesothelioma is an especially good target for a novel cancer treatment called gene therapy.
Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer of the thin, membranous mesothelial tissue surrounding the lungs, heart or abdomen. Also known as the ‘asbestos cancer’, because of its link to asbestos exposure, mesothelioma is extremely difficult to treat. Based on an evaluation of clinical trials on gene therapy for mesothelioma, the University of Pennsylvania researchers concluded that certain aspects of this disease may make gene therapy a promising option.
One mesothelioma characteristic they cited is the tendency for the cancer to remain relatively localized until late in the course of the disease, making it easier to confine the gene-altering therapy to the tumor cells. Another key aspect of mesothelioma that lends itself to gene therapy, they say, is the fact that the thin layer of mesothelioma cells offer ‘a large surface area for efficient, rapid and diffuse gene transfer’. In their review of gene therapy clinical trials, the authors note that they have ‘shown safety and some limited evidence of efficacy.’
Gene therapy is the alteration of genetic material on the cellular level to affect how cancer cells behave. Viruses that have been altered so they do not cause disease are typically used as ‘carriers’ for the new genetic material. Some gene therapy is aimed at triggering the natural process of cellular death. Other types of gene therapy affect the ability of cells to replicate, which is how cancer spreads. Still other types are aimed at altering genes in a way that makes the cancer cells more susceptible to anti-cancer drugs.
There are currently two active National Cancer Institute-sponsored clinical trials on gene therapy for mesothelioma patients – both at the University of Pennsylvania’s Abramson Cancer Center. ‘Intrapleural Gene Transfer for Pleural Mesothelioma’ and ‘Combination Gene Transfer and Chemotherapy’ are both continuing to recruit patient participants. For more information on these and other types of clinical trials for mesothelioma, visit the National Cancer Institute.
Vachani, A et al, “Gene Therapy for Mesothelioma”, April 26, 2011, Current Treatment Options in Oncology, Epub ahead of print. Gene Therapy for Cancer: Questions & Answers, National Cancer Institute website.