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Combined Immunotherapy and Chemotherapy Mesothelioma Treatment Improves Prognosis

Immunotherapy & Standard Mesothelioma Treatments

Immunotherapy is gaining ground in the scientific community as a new wave mesothelioma treatment.  However, traditional methods of treatment such as chemotherapy are still the primary method doctors use.  That’s because chemotherapy and surgery have proven to be the most effective mesothelioma treatments to date. According to the American Cancer Society, "immunotherapy is a form of biologic therapy or biotherapy. It is treatment that uses certain parts of the immune system to fight diseases," including asbestos cancer such as mesothelioma.  Immunotherapy works in two ways:  

  • Stimulates the body's own immune system to work harder or smarter
  • Gives the patient immune system components, such as man-made immune system proteins

Although immunotherapy can be used by itself to treat cancer, it is usually combined with another type of treatment to boost its effects.

Scientists Confirm Combined Immunotherapy and Chemotherapy Mesothelioma Treatment Improves Prognosis

However, an international group of scientists working under the umbrella of the Cancer Research Institute have confirmed that chemotherapy when combined with a specialized form of immunotherapy can improve the prognosis for mesothelioma patients and victims of other forms of cancer as well.

How is this possible?  The immunotherapy works in conjunction with the chemotherapy to target the damaged cancerous cells specifically, minimizing the side effects and adverse reactions that patients may otherwise experience when undergoing more general types of available mesothelioma treatments. 

Antibodies are chemical markers that attach to invading or abnormal cells, such as malignant epithelial cells and mesothelial cells, that then, in effect, “paint” the target cell as hostile.  This allows the rest of the immune system to work against these cells by either eliminating them altogether or isolating them so than can do no more damage.  However, antibodies typically cannot attach to cancer cells because the biomarkers that identify the cell as harmful are not on the surface. 

However, for this study, researchers introduced a specific antibody that would target the prototypic cancer antigen NY-ESO-1 within colon cancer cells (instead of on the surface).  The immune system’s “killer” cells (T Cells) were then able to identify and attack the cancerous cells while ignoring nearby healthy cells.  

However, researchers discovered that the antibody by itself had little or no effect on the cancer.  It was only when the introduction of the antibody coincided with chemotherapy that they were able to “significantly delay cancer progression” which, in a non-laboratory setting, would also prolong the cancer patient’s survival.

Co-author Gerd Ritter, associate director of the New York Branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research (LICR), said that "therapies that can successfully target cancer antigens found within cancer cells may be able to fight cancer without causing unwanted side effects due to collateral damage to healthy cells."

Working on the success with colon cancer, researchers tried the same tactic with various other types of cancer and tumor cells and found similar results. 

Doctor Hiroyoshi Nishikawa, associate professor in the Department of Experimental Immunology at the Immunology Frontier Research Center at Osaka University, said that the results “provides proof-of-principle for a powerful new strategy that may greatly expand the arsenal of potential targets for cancer drug development and that could be broadly applicable to many different cancer types.”

But chemotherapy is not the only traditional mesothelioma treatment that’s getting re-examined in the face of new developments in immunotherapy.  Scientists are also experimenting to see if radiation therapy would partner well with immunotherapy treatments in mesothelioma patients.

The scientists behind this study are already planning clinical trial to see if this radical new cancer treatment would work on a larger scale.