In honor of National Mesothelioma Awareness Day, we’re launching a three-part blog series highlighting the newest scientific research regarding mesothelioma. New science has emerged in the last two years that may have significant implications for the future treatment of malignant mesothelioma. In this series, we will look at three important scientific breakthroughs that have the largest potential to affect the future of mesothelioma treatment.
In early 2010, results of a study were published in the American Thoracic Society’s American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine that proved the safety of a possible vaccine for mesothelioma.
In late 2010, Dr. Rachel Ostroff, the clinical research director of Somalogic Inc., presented results of an ongoing study at the Fourth AACR International Conference on Molecular Diagnostics in Cancer Therapeutic Development about new biomarkers she discovered for mesothelioma that would impact early diagnosis and provide insight into new therapies for the disease.
Just last month, NIH-funded research discovered a genetic link to mesothelioma.
History of Mesothelioma and Asbestos Exposure
As far back as the early 1900’s, cases of mesothelioma and lung cancer have been linked to asbestos exposure. It wasn’t until 1970 with the United States Clean Air Act that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was permitted to start regulating asbestos as a hazardous pollutant. With asbestos being more and more regulated in the United States over the past forty years, the rate of new mesothelioma diagnoses in the U.S. each year has risen steadily in men and sporadically in woman.
Currently in the United States, there are an estimated 2000 to 3000 new cases of mesothelioma diagnosed each year. The increase in incidence may be the result of lag time between asbestos exposure and diagnosis, which can be up to 50 years. For this reason, the number of new mesothelioma diagnoses is expected to continue to rise through the year 2020.
New Science Mesothelioma Vaccine
The continued increase in the rate of mesothelioma diagnosis and the current lack of treatment options is what inspired researchers at the Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands to study new therapies. Immunotherapy, which stimulates the immune system to target and destroy cancer cells, had previously shown promise. Based on this previous research, Dr. Joachim G Aerts, a pulmonary physician at Erasmus Medical Center, set out to create a vaccine for mesothelioma. The vaccine, which uses a patient’s own dendritic cells (DC) with antigen from the patient’s tumor, was able to induce a T-cell response against mesothelioma tumors.
In other words, three out of ten patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma of the epithelial subtype showed signs of tumor regression and four others showed evidence of cytotoxicity against their own tumors after vaccination. There is much more work to be done before results can be irrefutably attributed to the vaccine and side effects can be minimized, but the study showed real promise.
Dr. Aerts says of the study: “We hope that by further development of our method it will be possible to increase survival in patients with mesothelioma and eventually vaccinate persons who have been in contact with asbestos to prevent them from getting asbestos related diseases.”
In the next post of this series, we’ll look at mesothelioma biomarkers and the implications they have for possible future treatments.