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Researchers Use Common Cold Virus to Fight Malignant Mesothelioma

Measles Virus to Treat Mesothelioma

The common cold causes people to do lot of sneezing and sniffing during the winter months.

But researchers at the University of Pennsylvania hope the common cold virus may prove helpful in developing targeted treatments for people with early stage malignant mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer of the lining of the lung and abdomen caused by exposure to asbestos.

In a recent study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania describe an immuno-gene therapy treatment that uses a modified common cold virus to trigger a patient’s immune system to destroy mesothelioma cells. Mesothelioma immunotherapy uses the body’s own defenses to fight cancer.

“Given our encouraging results in this trial with advanced stage patients, we believe that  (treatment) regimens incorporating immuno-gene therapy will have an important role in the treatment of earlier stage patients suffering from malignant mesothelioma,” said Dr. Steven M. Albelda, a professor of medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine and senior author of the study in a University of Pennsylvania press release.

The Penn researchers led by Dr. Albelda tested a new approach in which an adenovirus —a modified common cold virus—was altered in the laboratory to express high levels of a potent immune system stimulant called interferon-alpha.  Interferon-alpha is a protein produced by immune cells that boost the body’s ability to fight infections and some cancers.

Nine patients with varying stages of mesothelioma took part in a small clinical trial to test the new immuno-gene therapy treatment. Doctors injected the modified cold virus directly into the chest cavity of patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma. They noted antibody responses in nearly all the patients.

They observed evidence of tumor regression in five of the patients and no major side effects.

Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer and often resistant to the standard treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy. Doctors are looking for more effective treatment options for asbestos-related disease.

“Since there are very few effective treatments for advanced mesothelioma, it is important that we were able to demonstrate radiographic and biochemical evidence of clinical anti-tumor activity in some of our patients,” said Dr. Daniel Sterman, co-author of the study and co-director of the Penn Mesothelioma and Pleural Program.

Penn researchers are now testing the new approach in patients with early stage mesothelioma. It’s being used in combination with chemotherapy in a clinical trial sponsored by the National Cancer Institute.

Approximately 3,000 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma in the U.S. each year. Most are older workers, retired workers and veterans who were exposed to asbestos in a workplace. Family members of people who worked around asbestos also are at risk of developing the disease. Symptoms of mesothelioma typically appear 30 years to 50 years after exposure.

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