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NIH Grant May Help Validate Light-Based Therapy for Mesothelioma

4142338_light2University of Pennsylvania researchers studying a promising mesothelioma treatment that kills cancer cells with light will get the opportunity to take their research to the next level thanks to a significant new grant.

Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine has received $8 million from the National Cancer Institute to delve deeper into the effects of photodynamic therapy (PDT) in patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma. The team has been researching and using the treatment in patients for several years, but the grant will allow them to conduct a larger clinical trial to further validate their good results.

“This trial represents a major step in understanding the combination of treatment modalities that will offer patients the best hope for survival and extended remission,” principal investigator Eli Glatstein, MD, said in a statement. Dr. Glatstein is a member of Penn’s Mesothelioma and Pleural Program, a top center for mesothelioma research.

The new NIH-funded clinical trial of PDT in mesothelioma expects to enroll 102 patients over four years. Patients will get the photosensitizing agent Photofrim a day before their lung-sparing pleurectomy/decortication surgery. Half of the mesothelioma patients will then be treated with cancer-killing laser light during surgery and half will receive only adjuvant chemotherapy.

The same team’s previous studies on photodynamic therapy in combination with lung-sparing surgery have produced some of the best mesothelioma survival results to date. A 2013 Penn study published in the Annals of Cardiothoracic Surgery showed a median survival of 31.7 months among 38 mesothelioma patients who underwent surgery and PDT. The results were especially notable since all of the patients had advanced disease. Patients in the study with the epithelioid type of mesothelioma survived even longer.

The goal of the new research will be to determine the exact mechanism by which PDT kills mesothelioma cells, how the treatment impacts immunity and blood vessel formation in tumors, and whether or not there are drugs or other treatments that can enhance the effect.

Photodynamic therapy for mesothelioma is an emerging treatment and is primarily available in larger cancer centers. If the results of the new PDT research are as promising as the previous studies, it may prompt other cancer centers to offer the therapy to mesothelioma patients. Mesothelioma is an aggressive asbestos-related cancer that is often resistant to standard therapies.


“Penn Mesothelioma Program Receives $8 Million NCI Grant to Study Effects of Photodynamic Therapy Plus Surgery on Patient Survival and Disease Progression”, July 10, 2014, News Release, University of Pennsylvania website

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