Gene Therapy and Mesothelioma Treatment
The Shands Cancer Center at the University of Florida describes gene therapy as putting new genetic material, meaning DNA/RNA, into a cell to assist in recovery from a medical condition. This can be done in several ways. Methods of gene therapy for mesothelioma and other applications include:
- Removing or inactivating a gene that isn’t working properly
- Replacing a functioning gene with another gene that will cause the cell to behave in a completely different manner
- Causing an immune response in the body that will result in the diseased cell being attacked and destroyed
At the present time, there are no approved gene therapies for the treatment of mesothelioma.
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Experimental Mesothelioma Treatments and Gene Therapy
DNA cannot simply be injected into the bloodstream because the body would destroy it before it ever reached the cells. Instead, it has to be brought to the cells by a special messenger called a vector. Researchers are experimenting with different vectors, the most promising of which seems to be viruses.
Although viruses cause infections, there have some characteristics that make them good candidates for use in mesothelioma treatment gene therapy. Viruses create new virus cells by injecting their genetic material into existing cells. This sends a signal to these cells to start producing the proteins necessary for the virus cells to reproduce. Another feature of viruses that is important to their use in gene therapy is that many of them are selective in terms of which cells they infiltrate, meaning that they may be able to be sent to specific tumor cells.
Modest Success in Treating Malignant Mesothelioma with Gene Transfer
Researchers have examined whether the use of two doses of adenoviral vector carrying interferon-beta administered to patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma would result in gene transfer and anti-tumor immune responses. They had already proven that one dose accomplished this.
The researchers administered two doses of adenovirus with interferon-beta to 10 patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma and seven patients with pleural fluid buildup that was malignant. They did achieve some success. Immune responses against the tumor were seen in most patients. After two months, there was one patient with a partial response, two with stable disease, nine with progressive disease, and two with non-measurable disease. One patient died after one month. There were seven patients with survival times longer than 18 months.
Although this mesothelioma treatment was found to be safe and resulted in the desired immune responses and disease stability, only a minimal amount of the adenovirus containing the interferon-beta was left in the patients’ bloodstreams after the second dose because certain antibodies called Ad antibodies or Nabs neutralized the virus, which prevented any more gene transfer.
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