Doctors have started using cancer gene therapy to treat mesothelioma in clinical trials. Genes are the building blocks of DNA, and mesothelioma gene therapy edits the DNA of cancer cells so they’re easier to destroy. See how gene therapy has helped other mesothelioma patients and learn if you might be a good candidate to join a clinical trial.
What Is Gene Therapy for Mesothelioma?
Like other types of cancer, mesothelioma develops when carcinogens like asbestos cause healthy cells to mutate and spread throughout the body.
Doctors generally treat mesothelioma through radiation, chemotherapy, and/or surgery. However, doctors can also introduce gene therapy as a supporting, additional treatment to counteract defective genes in a cell.
Unlike chemotherapy and radiation, which seek to kill or slow cancerous cell growth, gene therapy manipulates the DNA of cancer cells so they weaken and die.
U.S. veterans with mesothelioma may qualify to receive gene therapy through a clinical trial, depending on the specifics of their diagnosis. Learn more about top treatments for mesothelioma in our Free Veterans Packet.
What Happens During Gene Therapy Treatment?
Most mesothelioma gene therapy treatments add genes to the cancer cells’ DNA to help fight the cancer.
Genes can be added to mesothelioma cells to make them:
- Easier for the body’s immune system to target and destroy
- Easier to destroy using chemotherapy or radiation
- More susceptible to antiviral drugs
After determining which type of cell to modify, researchers use tools called vectors to inject new DNA into a cell. Vectors (or adenoviral vectors) are vehicles for delivering DNA into cells.
Common vectors for gene therapy include:
- Modified viruses: Scientists can reprogram viruses to carry helpful DNA like tumor suppressors into a cell. They can also keep viruses from causing disease.
- Nanoparticles and microparticles: These tiny particles can push genetic material into a cell. These vectors are less likely to cause an immune reaction than others.
Not every type of mesothelioma gene therapy works in the same way. If you’re starting gene therapy in a clinical trial, ask your doctors how the therapy works if you have any questions or concerns.
Types of Gene Therapy for Mesothelioma
There are many types of gene therapy treatments for mesothelioma. Learn about a few leading mesothelioma gene therapies below.
Angiogenic Gene Therapy
Also called antiangiogenic therapy, this treatment may stop the growth of mesothelioma cells by blocking new blood vessels from forming.
Angiogenic gene therapy may stabilize cancerous tumors, reduce the size of the tumors, or prevent them from growing further.
CAR T-Cell Therapy
Short for Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-cell therapy, CAR T-cell therapy uses specially altered T cells to fight cancer. T cells are a type of white blood cell that protects the body from infection and can help fight mesothelioma and other cancers.
CAR T-cell therapy is considered both immunotherapy and gene therapy, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).
Cytokine Gene Therapy
In cytokine gene therapy, doctors introduce cytokine genes — which control the activity and growth of blood cells and immune system cells — into mesothelioma tumors. This causes a strong inflammatory reaction that stops or slows the growth of the cancer.
Malfunctioning genes can cause cancerous cells to divide and spread rapidly.
Medical professionals can treat mesothelioma by using gene transfer to replace a defective or missing gene with a healthy, functional copy of that gene. This helps to stop or slow cancer spread.
Suicide Gene Therapy for Mesothelioma
In suicide gene therapy, researchers inject genes that cause or contribute to cell death (apoptosis).
In a 2020 study, scientists genetically edited mesothelioma tumor cells so they would express the herpes simplex virus gene for thymidine kinase (HSV-TK).
Due to their expression of HSV-TK, the cancer cells self-destructed when exposed to ganciclovir, an antiviral drug.
Targeted Mutant p53 Gene Therapy
Mutations in the tumor-suppressing p53 gene are very common in cancers like mesothelioma. As such, targeting mutant p53 genes to repair them may prevent tumors from growing and spreading.
In one study, scientists successfully stopped pleural mesothelioma tumors from growing using this gene therapy. They accomplished this by using adenoviral vectors, which were administered into the pleura (lung lining) to restore the p53 pathways.
Veterans can pursue mesothelioma treatments (which may include gene therapy if they’re eligible) for free or at a reduced cost with military health care benefits. File a claim now.
Benefits of Gene Therapy in Mesothelioma Treatment
Malignant mesothelioma gene therapy provides several benefits for people with this condition.
Benefits of mesothelioma gene therapy
- Boosts antibodies: Gene therapy can boost the number of cancer antibodies, which can stop or reduce the growth of mesothelioma tumors.
- Helps after treatment: In some cases, the residual effects of gene therapy may continue to help the body fight cancer, even after the main treatment regimen has ended.
- Targets just cancer cells: In other types of mesothelioma treatment (like surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy), healthy cells may be destroyed or removed as doctors work to eliminate the cancer.
Different gene therapies may prove more effective or have additional benefits for some mesothelioma patients than others, depending on factors like the cancer’s location, stage, and cell type.
Side Effects of Gene Therapy in Mesothelioma Patients
Like other cancer treatments, mesothelioma gene therapies can cause various side effects. The severity of such side effects depends on what type of gene therapy is used, the patient’s overall health, and many other factors.
Side effects of mesothelioma gene therapy may include:
- Blood pressure changes
- Flu-like illness
- Injection site pain
- Muscle pain
- Severe chills
- Skin infection
Mesothelioma specialists that conduct clinical trials for gene therapy can let you know of any possible side effects before treatments start.
Risks of Mesothelioma Gene Therapy
Scientists have also been concerned about the potential risks of injecting genetic mutations and viruses into the body.
Possible risks of gene therapy include:
- Creating an unwanted immune system reaction: The immune system may identify the vectors as intruders and attack them, resulting in inflammation and, in extreme cases, organ failure.
- Increasing the chances of causing a tumor: Injecting new genes into the wrong section of a patient’s DNA may lead to tumor formation.
- Increasing the risks of infection: Scientists remove viruses’ ability to cause disease before injecting them with new DNA. However, the viruses may regain the ability to cause disease once injected into the body.
- Targeting the wrong cells: Vectors like viruses can affect more than just cancer cells. If they affect other cells, healthy cells may be damaged, causing other diseases and illnesses.
That said, clinical researchers make sure to thoroughly test gene therapies before giving them to human patients to significantly reduce the chances of any severe complications like those listed above.
How Will Gene Therapy Affect Mesothelioma Prognosis?
Mesothelioma typically has a poor prognosis, or expected health outcome. Most patients only live 12-21 months. Fortunately, gene therapy may possibly improve mesothelioma prognosis.
For example, a study that combined gene therapy, immunotherapy, and chemotherapy found that pleural mesothelioma patients lived for 21.5 months on average.
This study looked at a second-line treatment plan, meaning the patients were receiving a second round of medical care. Since most mesothelioma patients live less than two years total, this was an important breakthrough.
An additional study looked at how CAR T-cell therapy could help mesothelioma patients. The life expectancy of patients in this study was 23.9 months.
Who Can Receive Mesothelioma Gene Therapy?
As of early 2023, gene therapy is still an experimental treatment. This means it has not been approved as a mainstream cancer treatment by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is only available for mesothelioma patients in clinical trials.
U.S. veterans that want to undergo malignant mesothelioma gene therapy treatments can reach out to cancer specialists and learn if there are clinical trials they qualify to join.
Find the best mesothelioma treatments for your case: Get our Free Veterans Packet now for more information.
Find Gene Therapy Clinical Trials and Other Mesothelioma Treatments
If you have mesothelioma, lung cancer, or another asbestos-related illness, you may be able to get gene therapy or other treatments to live longer.
Mesothelioma gene therapies are currently only available in clinical trials. Fortunately, U.S. veterans fighting mesothelioma can pursue gene therapy (if eligible) and other treatments through benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
By getting VA benefits, veterans can access care from leading cancer centers at a lower cost and receive monthly payouts worth $3,823.89 per month in many cases.
Connect with our team now to get help filing for VA benefits and accessing top treatments.
Mesothelioma Gene Therapy FAQs
How effective is gene therapy for mesothelioma?
Gene therapy seems to be an effective mesothelioma treatment approach. This is especially true when combined with traditional treatments like surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.
However, this treatment is still under investigation and no form of it has been approved by the FDA. Our team will provide updates if and when gene therapy becomes a mainstream mesothelioma treatment.
What is the success rate of gene therapy in treating mesothelioma?
Different forms of gene therapy have shown success in helping some mesothelioma patients live longer.
Patients sometimes live for nearly two years after starting gene therapy treatments, depending on the type of treatment used, the patient’s overall health, and other factors.
How can I receive mesothelioma gene therapy?
Right now, clinical trials are the only way to receive mesothelioma gene therapy. Ask your mesothelioma doctor if there is a mesothelioma gene therapy trial that you may qualify for.
Not every mesothelioma patient will be able to join a gene therapy clinical trial (as each one has its own set of eligibility requirements). However, there may be other trials or treatments that could help improve your mesothelioma prognosis.