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Experimental Therapy Targets Mesothelioma Cancer Cells to Commit Suicide

 A frontier in treatment of mesothelioma and other cancers is the use of a type of gene therapy that induces cancer cells to self-destruct.

In a recent article in the Journal of Genetic Syndromes and Gene Therapy, Dr. Marek Malecki of the University of Wisconsin and Phoenix Biomolecular Engineering Foundation reports that cancer suicide gene therapy while not without risks remains one of the most promising experimental therapies for treating many types of cancer. Mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining of the chest cavity caused by exposure to asbestos.

The success of the gene therapy hinges on delivering the suicide genes to the cancer cells. That is accomplished by identifying unique or overabundant proteins that serve as flags of the invading army of malignant cancer cells, giving away their location. Researchers have identified a number of biomarkers that may serve as chemical signals of malignant mesothelioma cells.

The identification of biomarkers allows doctors to deliver therapeutic drugs with more precision, avoiding collateral damage to healthy cells. Chemotherapy drugs by comparison affect all cells and have side effects including nausea and toxicity. Surgery to remove operable mesothelioma tumors inevitably removes healthy tissue as well as cancerous tissue and affects a patient’s quality of life.

That is why targeted therapies such as suicide gene therapy hold promise. To induce cancer cells to self-destruct, doctors inject a genetically modified virus into the tumor to deliver the suicide genes which prompts them to produce a special enzyme. The patient then receives another drug that transforms the enzyme into a toxic compound that prompts the rapidly dividing cancer cells to commit suicide.

Researchers have observed promising results of suicide gene therapy in initial clinical trials involving mesothelioma and other types of cancer. While the treatment has not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, it holds the potential to eliminate cancer cells without harming healthy cells, minimizing side effects suffered by patients.

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Last Modified: March 4, 2019

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