A cancer treatment that uses genetically reengineered T-cells – essential for our immune system – may be trialled in humans to fight the asbestos-related lung cancer mesothelioma.
In an article for the Los Angeles Times, Geoffrey Mohan highlights work published online in Science Translational Medicine, which suggests that the treatment has shown promise in fighting hard tumours, like mesothelioma, when delivered directly to the tumour area.
The work was done by researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre in New York. They found that T-cells reengineered to recognise cancers and destroy them, not only eliminated the cancer but successfully proliferate to fight off a reintroduced cancer.
Immune therapy uses parts of a person’s immune system to fight diseases. This can be done by either stimulating the immune system to work harder and smarter, or by altering the immune system’s components by adding proteins or genes that recognise cancerous cells.
The researchers used human T-cells and tumours in mice. They tried both intravenous (bloodstream) injections and introducing the altered T-cells directly into the pleural cavity between the ribcage and the lungs. Mesothelioma affects a lining of the lung, called the pleura, which covers the inside of the ribcage and the outside of the lungs.
According to the study, the introduction of the reengineered T-cells into the pleural cavity was effective with a dosage 30 times lower than an intravenous dose. Even after 200 days the treatment remained effective when a tumour was reintroduced into the mice.
There is of course still a long way to go, but it is hoped that the research will clear the way for phase one clinical trials in humans. The trials still need approval from the US Food and Drug Administration but they could begin as early as next year.
According to the Health and Safety Executive more than 2,500 people die every year in the UK from mesothelioma. In the vast majority of cases mesothelioma is caused by exposure to asbestos fibres, and at the moment it remains an incurable and aggressive lung cancer.