A clinical study published – 9th February 2009, shows promising results in a new future treatment for tumours in patients with mesothelin forms of cancers. The study which was developed by researchers at the (NCI) ‘National Cancer Institute of Health’ and the ‘University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine’ may offer a fresh approach in the development of immunotherapy and certain tumours.
Elevated levels of ‘mesothelin’ – a type of protein which is usually limited to cells that make up the protective membrane (mesothelium) which encases the body’s cavities and internal organs has been found in blood samples of workers exposed to asbestos prior to any tumours being detected. Mesothelin is considered to play an important role in the metastatic rate (spread and growth) of cancers but its biological function remains unclear.
According to ‘Ira Pastan’ M.D, at (NCI) – Tumour cells derive from a persons normal cells – hence the immune system doesn’t always predict tumour molecules as being threatening or foreign and therefore fails to put up a fight or attack them. It is possible to genetically modify the immune cells to recognise and target molecules on tumour cells but molecule cells can be also present in normal cells and destroyed. However – mesothelin is a far more promising suitor for producing tumour- targeting T-cells as it is more limited to normal tissues than in several cancers.
So the research team genetically engineered some human T-cells to predominantly target human mesothelin. In order to study the effects on tumour tissue, human mesothelioma cells were implanted beneath the skin of mice. Approximately six weeks later when tumours had formed and advanced – the modified T-cells were injected into the tumours or intravenously. The results were promising as the tumours not only shrinked considerably but some disappeared.
The findings indicate that small doses of engineered T-cells may help mesothelioma and ovarian cancer patients in the future and clinical trials are currently being developed to investigate its potential.
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