Emerging Strategies in the Mesothelioma Fight
Sarah Wolverton

Emerging Strategies in the Mesothelioma Fight

How immunotherapies and 3D bioprinting might help push us closer to better treatments for mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is an exceptionally difficult disease to treat. It takes 10-50 years after initial exposure to the mineral asbestos for mesothelioma to develop. Due to this extended latency period, mesothelioma is tricky to diagnose and usually found too late for treatments to do any good.

The good news is that the toolkit for fighting this deadly lung disease is expanding in new and exciting ways. Cancer immunotherapy and 3D bioprinting are two such weapons under consideration. 

Immunotherapy for malignant mesothelioma

Immunotherapy harnesses the immune system to recognize and eliminate cancer cells. There are a few different ways immunotherapy is being used in mesothelioma research.

One method being explored relies on immune checkpoint inhibitors, which block proteins that a tumor uses to shut down the immune system. These drugs are known as immune checkpoint inhibitors. Another strategy being looked at involves re-engineering a patients T-cells and re-infusing the cells back into the patient’s bloodstream, setting lose a vast array of tumor bombers. This strategy is known as chimeric antigen receptor or CAR T-cell therapy.

There are currently four applicable checkpoint inhibitor drugs on the market being studied in mesothelioma patients, Checkpoint inhibitors are already approved for non-small cell lung cancer, but whether it works for a disease like mesothelioma, which affects the tissues lining the lungs, remains to be seen. Clinical trials of checkpoint inhibitor drugs have been shown to slow or even stop the progression of mesothelioma tumors in some patients. And progression-free survival of mesothelioma patients has been as high as 44% using a single immune checkpoint inhibitor drug, and even higher using combination immunotherapy. .

CART-cell therapy is also showing promise for mesothelioma patients. Researchers at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center have tested CAR T-cell therapy on mesothelioma patients, with positive results. In their initial studies, 41% of patients treated with this T-cell therapy demonstrated tumor regression.

3D printinga next-gen tool for cancer

Three-dimensional (3D) printing has already made a splash in the medical field. From printing models of patient’s bodies to practice surgery to printing implants for dentistry and bone replacement, 3D printing is becoming increasingly visible. Could a new iteration called 3D bioprinting also help propel cancer research?

Bioprinting involves machines that manipulate and redistribute living cells into pre-programmed shapes. Bioprinting is seen a way to  potentially alleviate the chronic shortage of organs needed for transplants. In May, a cross-university team of bioengineers were able to print a complex lung-like structure. They used a new biotechnology called the stereolithography apparatus for tissue engineering, or SLATE. The tool works by printing microscopic 2D layers of tissue from a liquid pre-hydrogel that solidifies when exposed to blue light. With this research, the team finally found success in mimicking the body’s natural complexity of blood vessels.

3D bioprinting of lungs might also provide new avenues for mesothelioma patients. If a healthy, cancer-free bioprinted lung could be transplanted into a patient, it could minimize the health problems that often result from traditional lung surgery for mesothelioma patients. 

To be sure, the field of 3D bioprinting as it applies to cancer is still very early days. 2019 will not be the year of 3D bioprints restoring the disease lungs of a mesothelioma patient. Advancements are incremental. But there is no doubt the field of 3D bioprinting looks promising for people with mesothelioma.

In contrast to fabricating replacement tissue for patients, bioprints are also being used by researchers at Wake Forest School of Medicine to keep tumors alive. By extracting living tumor cells from a patient and printing a structure for it to live in, scientists can test the efficacy of drugs on tumors, independent of repercussions for the patient.

The need for new tools to fight mesothelioma are huge. Will immunotherapy drugs or innovative tools like 3D bioprinting be the difference? Thousands of patients with mesothelioma are waiting and hoping.

Sarah Wolverton is a content specialist for mesothelioma.com, which since 1996 has been dedicated to providing the latest medical information on mesothelioma, spreading awareness about the dangers of asbestos exposure and helping victims connect with legal resources. Mesothelioma Awareness Day, held on Sept. 26, occurs every year as a way to raise public awareness around this cancer. Increased awareness has a positive impact on research and clinical trials, which was the original purpose for establishing the day in 2004. This year, wear blue to support mesothelioma patients, get your home checked for asbestos and educate yourself on the latest treatments.

Check out these other mesothelioma articles published on Eureka, Charles River's science blog.