A form of gene therapy is among the most promising new experimental treatments for mesothelioma. The treatment is a novel cancer suicide gene therapy. Mesothelioma lawyers are hopeful that this new development will provide hope and better prognoses for those suffering from the rare lung cancer.
Reports of this new therapy were recently published in the Journal of Genetic Syndromes and Gene Therapy. The ultimate goal of any cancer therapy is to completely eliminate all cancerous cells. Suicide gene therapy, aims to achieve this very goal, while leaving healthy cells unharmed. The therapeutic strategy must first identify and target unique or over-expressed biomarkers evident in the cancer cells. Biomarkers are found in blood, tissues, or other bodily fluids, and signify abnormal conditions or diseases. Fortunately, due to increased research in recent years, many new mesothelioma biomarkers have been discovered.
Such mesothelioma biomarkers include over-expressed mesothelial, and the fibulin-3 protein. These biomarkers offer the ultimate targeting precision for delivering the suicidal genes’ carrying mechanism. Only the viruses with these very specific biomarkers on their surfaces will anchor onto the specific receptors on the cells, and vice versa.
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Gene therapy research is so rapidly progressing because of the many problems associated with more traditional forms of cancer treatment, such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. The problem with these treatments is that patients are forced to endure numerous painful and debilitating side effects, which prevent doctors from administering high enough doses, causing treatments fall below the most effective levels. Gene therapy offers selective elimination of cancer cells, which is particularly critical in cases in which they are intermingled with healthy cells. Surgical resection (such as pleurodesis) unavoidably removes the functional, healthy cells together with the cancerous ones, impairing the patient’s ability to function normally.
Lung cancer takes more lives than any other cancer: more than 160,000 people will die of lung cancer this year, and more than 220,000 more will be diagnosed. Induction of cancer cells’ suicide can be accomplished in several ways. Most often, doctors inject genetically modified viruses into the tumors, causing them to produce special enzymes. Patients then receive a unique chemotherapy drug, called a prodrug, which converts these enzymes into toxic compounds that induce self-destruction in the cancer cells. Suicide therapy usually uses the prodrug ganciclovir, which is non-toxic, and does not harm healthy cells. The prodrug only targets and reacts in cells that were genetically altered by the initial virus.
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One suicide gene therapy clinical trial for patients with mesothelioma was conducted in 2005 at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, and showed promising results. More than 20 malignant pleural mesothelioma patients received high dose therapy. The research team observed many clinical responses in the patients, including two long-term survivors (longer than 6.5 years). The therapy was safe and well-tolerated in all the mesothelioma patients. The team concluded that suicide gene therapy approaches may lead to increased therapeutic responses in patients who are otherwise untreatable. Currently, suicide gene therapy is only available through clinical trials.
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A major problem for gene therapy is low efficiency in delivery and expression of therapeutic genes. Bioengineered stem cells are being tested for their potential of resolving this problem for two reasons: precise targeting, and efficient expression. Gene delivery efficacy is an integral requirement for successful suicide gene therapy.
Lung cancer lawyers are happy to report that progress is being made in therapeutic gene treatment, as many experiments are being performed both pre-clinically and in clinical trials. We are hopeful that this therapy will find its place in standardized anti-cancer treatments in the ensuing years. If you or someone you love was diagnosed with mesothelioma or any other diseases associated with exposure to asbestos, you have important legal rights, and should contact a mesothelioma lawyer immediately for a free legal consultation.
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