According to a recent study conducted by a cancer research lab in Holland, a new vaccine may prevent and treat mesothelioma, a form of cancer derived from asbestos exposure. Researchers tested the vaccine on ten patients who had been diagnosed with mesothelioma, with all of them exhibiting increased levels of antibodies against the disease and three of them displaying sings that the tumors had decreased in size.
The study, published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, details how the vaccine works with a patient’s dendritic cells to create antigens to the cancerous tumors within the fluid lining of the lungs in mesothelioma patients. Dr. Joachim Aerts, the author of the study and a lung specialist at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, said that his approach was to employ the patient’s immune system to attack tumors and create an inherent immunity to the disease, rather than using conventional radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
Dr. Aerts also said that the idea of using a patient’s own immune system is one of the cornerstones of a relatively new branch of cancer treatment called immunotherapy. He stated that the mesothelioma vaccine shows that the concept is both workable and safe, with minimal side effects when compared to current treatment methods. He expressed the hope that further study would make it feasible to increase a patient’s survival rate from the disease. Currently, patients diagnosed with mesothelioma live less than two years.
Patients who have suffered from asbestos exposure typically do not display symptoms of mesothelioma for several years, or even decades, after the initial exposure period. By that time, the disease has already taken hold in the lungs and metastasized in other organs. Another facet of the study is that the vaccine could lead to immediate treatment for workers exposed to asbestos.
Although the side effects shown by patients in the study were not as severe as those experienced by patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatments, one potential effect comes from the alteration of the patient’s immune system during immunotherapy. Out of the ten patients tested, eight developed symptoms similar to the flu for up to forty-eight hours. The study noted that the patients recovered quickly and did not exhibit any signs of related autoimmune disorders.
Dr. Aerts noted the potential problems with immunosuppressive disorders. He said that the main issue with treating mesothelioma is that the tumor creates an environment within the pleural mesothelium (the fluid lining around the lungs) that can dampen the effect of the vaccine. He mentioned that the next step in development of the vaccine would be to affect the immunosuppressive environment around the tumor to increase the efficacy of the treatment.
Dr. Aerts and his fellow researchers have conducted a number of tests on the effects of dendritic cells and how they can affect cancerous tumors in mice. The previous studies showed that the vaccinations produced the antibodies needed to destroy malignant cells while maintaining the surrounding healthy tissue to generate an immunity specific to that form of cancer.
Sources: Business Week, ScienceDaily.com