This past year, mesothelioma research and development erred toward three main fields of study: biomarkers, immunotherapy, and anti-angiogenic drugs. In cell biology, biomarkers are specific molecules that enable researchers to detect and isolate unique cell types (such as mesothelial cells). WT-1 is one of these biomarkers. This molecule is a protein that binds to specific DNA sequences, and it is extremely over-expressed in patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma. Although the cause of mesothelioma is clear – asbestos fibers are known carcinogens – the specific molecular transformations that cause the tumors are largely unknown.
Mesothelioma lawyers are looking forward to the coming year and what it will bring for mesothelioma treatment, understanding, and therapy development. Both the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Center and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center are planning clinical trials for the WT-1 vaccine. WT-1 regulates gene expression and spurs cell growth. It has limited expression in normal tissues but, as stated, is over-expressed in many solid tumors, particularly mesothelioma. WT-1 is presented to and processed by the immune system and aids in development of tumor cells. Vaccines are being developed to induce immunological recognition and killing of WT-1-expressing mesothelioma cells.
In anticipation of these trials, the Cancer Centers recently conducted respective WT-1 gene research studies. Investigators at the MD Anderson Center received a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Services to take an in-depth look into the possibility of a WT-1 vaccine. The latter’s goals in this investigation were to better understand how asbestos fibers alter mesothelial cells and determine the role of the WT-1 tumor suppressor gene in normal and malignant mesothelial cells.
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MD Anderson Center researchers identified WT-1 gene mutations in cancerous rat mesothelial cells. They established similarities or differences in WT-1 mutations between rat and human mesothelioma by expanding the rat cell line data to human tumors induced by asbestos. They then determined the usefulness of WT-1 as a biomarker to detect mesothelioma. Researchers hope that this information will spur new diagnostic strategies for identifying mesothelioma and allow insights into the role of WT-1 as a possible gene target for asbestos in mesothelioma growth.
While the MD Anderson Center used rat mesothelial cells in their study, researchers at Cornell University’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center conducted a vaccine study on twelve human patients, nine with malignant pleural mesothelioma and three with non-small cell lung cancer. Their goal was to determine the safety and immune response of a WT-1 vaccine. The vaccine was administered at least six times in each of the twelve patients involved in the study, and ten of those patients were evaluable for immune response. Patients were vaccinated along with another immunotherapy vaccine because they have a general effect in boosting the immune response.
Ultimately, six out of nine patients tested demonstrated T-cell (immune system cells) improvement to WT-1 specific proteins. Stimulated T-cells were capable of being toxic to WT-1 positive cells. Vaccination also induced a multitude of functions for T-cell responses. The researchers found that the WT-1 vaccine induces immune responses in a high proportion of patients with minimal toxicity, and a randomized trial testing this vaccine as adjuvant therapy in malignant pleural mesothelioma is planned. In fact, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Center is currently recruiting participants for WT-1 clinical trials, a link to which can be found here.
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Asbestos exposure attorneys are hopeful that this new vaccine will be a landmark for mesothelioma therapy. Despite many obstacles, several agents such as WT-1 are being studied in clinical trials for mesothelioma. If you or a loved one was diagnosed with mesothelioma, you have important legal rights, and may want to consider enrolling in a clinical trial near you. Contact a mesothelioma lawyer for more information and a free legal consultation.