(415) 332-4262

Experimental Treatments for Mesothelioma

Traditional treatments for mesothelioma such as surgery and chemotherapy have shown limited results and have yet to cure this typeof aggressive asbestos cancer. Mesothelioma doctors and researchers have expand their ways of thinking to look for experimental treatments that could produce better results. These treatments include new drugs (or new methods of using existing drugs), radical new therapies (including the use of light and genetically modified viruses and bacteria), as well as variations on traditional surgeries.

Many of these experimental treatments for mesothelioma are not yet widely available either because they are still in the clinical trial or testing phase or, if they are in practice, may only be available at certain facilities around the world.  Some of these new treatments have shown great promise, giving both patients and researchers hope for more effective options and possibly even a cure.

Gene Therapy

Gene therapy is one of the most exciting areas of experimentation. Gene therapy looks at ways to alter the genetic makeup of either the patient, the disease, or a third-party agent which would attack the disease to eliminate the cancer altogether.

Gene therapies often involve genetically mutating existing viruses or even bacteria in order to attack cancerous cells within a mesothelioma patient. While several of these studies have shown promise in laboratory settings using tissue samples or animals, these therapies have yet to be expanded to experimentation involving human subjects.

Other forms of gene therapy are designed to alter the genetic structure of cancerous cells in order to keep them from replicating. Without the ability to reproduce or grow, cancerous cells eventually die. When cancerous cells die, tumors disappear.

Gene therapy is challenging because often times multiple genes are responsible for one action within the body, such that even if a gene that is linked with malignancy is “repaired,” another may step in to take its place. Therefore, one important component of experimental mesothelioma gene therapy is fully understanding the genetic structure and inner workings of malignant mesothelial cells.  Clinical trials fo further understand the exact genetic structure and inner workings of malignant mesothelial cells are ongoing. 


Immunotherapy is the practice of enhancing the body’s own immune system to fight mesothelioma.

Normally, the immune system can correctly identify foreign bodies and abnormal cells. It then dispatches T cells and lymphocytes which surround and destroy the abnormal cell. However, in the case of mesothelioma, the immune system does not recognize the cancerous cells as abnormal.
Therefore, the goal of experimental mesothelioma immunotherapy is to jump start the immune cells within the body into attacking malignant mesothelioma cells.

This is done through various methods including “painting” target cells, altering immune cells to attack the mesothelioma cells, and generally boosting the effectiveness of the immune system as a whole.

Immunotherapy has been initiated on several human mesothelioma patients but the results – while promising – have not yet led to a cure. Researchers were able to show significant decrease in tumor size but could not eliminate the cancer altogether.  One group of researchers is zeroing in on a mesothelioma vaccine which would prime the immune system to fight the disease before the cancer even arises. This would be a tremendous success and could be applied to at-risk individuals who are more likely to have asbestos exposure, such as industrial laborers, shipbuilders, contractors, carpenters, and home remodelers. Researchers continue investigations to discover an effective vaccine.

Photodynamic Therapy

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is the least experimental of these mesothelioma treatments. It has been successfully administered to hundreds of patients across the country but has still not lead to a cure. Doctors are experimenting with effective combination of surgeries and PDT in addition to various combinations and saturations of photo-sensitizing agents.

Essentially, PDT introduces a drug either to the body or directly into the mesothelioma tumor that makes the malignant cells much more sensitive to light – to the point that certain wavelengths can actually kill the cells. After an appropriate amount of time to allow the drug to work, light is applied directly to the tumor.  While this method has shown some success, it is still used only as part of a multi-modal approach which often includes surgery, chemotherapy, and possibly radiation.

The Future of Experimental Mesothelioma Treatments

Knowledge is power and as scientists learn more and more about deadly asbestos diseases, they can better understand how and why it occurs, how it develops, and how to stop it. Several studies and experiments are currently ongoing with the goal of discovering the key components of a mesothelioma tumor’s life cycle, including what chemicals signal the tumor’s growth, how tumors physically develop, and why traditional treatments are not as effective as they are with other cancers. There’s no doubt that these investigations will lead to new and more effective treatments in the near future.