Mesothelioma Discovery Shows Potential for Individualized Immunotherapy Treatment

For specialists, one of the most difficult aspects of treating mesothelioma is deciding which treatment will be the most effective for the patient. A patient’s diagnosis can vary greatly by stage, cell type, and location of the tumor, all of which affect their prognosis. Now that immunotherapy has been showing great promise treating aggressive cancer like mesothelioma in clinical trials, researchers are actively pursuing new, more efficient methods of drug synthesis.

Mesothelioma expert, Dr. Aaron Mansfield, and his research team at the Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine published a paper in November 2018 outlining a substantial discovery. They discovered large rearrangements of chromosomes found in mesothelioma cells that can be used as markers, which help determine if the patient will respond well to immunotherapy.

Perhaps most importantly, it will help specialists determine which immunotherapy drug to administer. Once chosen, the drug will aid in the production of cancer proteins, known as neoantigens, that attach themselves to the malignant cells so they can be identified by the patient’s immune system.

Since mesothelioma is aggressive cancer, once the patient starts exhibiting symptoms, treatments need to be applied quickly. Additionally, diagnoses can vary greatly between patients and makes any attempt to standardize treatment extremely difficult because not every patient’s cancer responds the same way.

This new system being utilized by the Mayo Clinic of mapping the entire mesothelioma genome gives researchers a new avenue to pursue the development of immunotherapy drugs, which target the specific mutations in the mesothelioma cells. According to Dr. George Vasmatzis, Ph.D., who serves as Co-director of the Center for Individualized Medicine Biomarker Discovery Program and the final author of the study:

“Mate-pair sequencing is an inexpensive way to scan the whole genome of tumor cells for chromosomal abnormalities that could give rise to cancer-causing proteins. By detecting all these abnormal junctions, mate-pair sequencing reveals a new biological marker for predicting response to immunotherapy.”

Scientists have known about mutations found in the DNA of cancer cells for some time. However, it is only through this process of mapping mutated cancer genes that researchers have been able to identify the unique changes in mesothelioma cells driving rapid tumor growth.

This breakthrough comes at an incredibly favorable moment, with researchers at the University of California, Irvine publishing a paper in early November that outlines a process of using minuscule water droplets to combine individually engineered T cell receptors (TCRs) with cancer cells in microscopic fluid containers.

The T cells that bind to antigens on the surface of cancer cells can then be sorted and identified much faster than with previous methods and has opened the door to new, more individualized immunotherapy. Since there are potentially millions of possible TCR molecule combinations, this new method cuts the time of analysis from up to a year down to just several days. Dr. Weian Zhao, one of the lead researchers on this project at UCI explained that:

“This use of droplet microfluidics screening significantly reduces the cost of making new cancer immunotherapies that are associated with less systemic side effects than standard chemotherapy drugs, and vastly speeds up the timeframe for treatment.”

Reducing cost and the time it takes to synthesize these immunotherapy drugs is a huge leap forward in the treatment of mesothelioma and other forms of cancer. Hopefully soon, we will see individualized immunotherapy gain more support given these advances, eventually becoming a standard treatment for mesothelioma patients, and providing them with the best possible chances of beating their cancer.

For more information on new treatments, top specialists, clinical trials or any questions regarding mesothelioma, please contact our Patient Advocacy Nurse, Jenna Campagna, RN. You may reach her by calling 888-385-2024 extension 102 or by emailing:

Alex Hall

Alex Hall is the Senior Content Writer for the Mesothelioma Guide. He writes and edits pages and blog posts to ensure patients and their families have access to the most relevant and up-to-date information about mesothelioma.

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Alex Hall

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