Virus Shows Promise for Treatment of Mesothelioma

An exciting new treatment for mesothelioma, the cancer caused by exposure to asbestos fibers, is being investigated by researchers at Michigan’s Mayo Clinic.

The therapy, which was the subject of a study conducted by Richard Vile, PhD., Professor of Immunology and Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation Professor at the Mayo Clinic, involves a virus which actually targets and destroys cancer cells, while ignoring the body’s healthy cells. The virus, known as an oncolytic virus, will have what is known as a “preferential tropism” for cancer cells versus healthy cells, meaning that the virus will replicate within the mesothelioma cells.

One of the most important benefits of this new therapy is that the virus will be much less likely than traditional treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, to cause debilitating or even harmful side effects. Chemo and radiation therapy are unable to distinguish between the cancerous cells and the healthy ones, which can lead to hair loss, nausea, and many other side effects reported by patients.

In the study conducted by Vile and his colleagues, a virus called vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) was injected into mice with mesothelioma tumors. Not only did tumors in the mice shrink significantly, but half of the mice were completely cured of tumors. Moreover, the surviving mice rejected mesothelioma cells that were later introduced, meaning that this therapy could provide protection against recurrence of the mesothelioma.

The next step in this exciting research is to identify the virus which can be used as a platform in human clinical trials.

Mesothelioma, a rare cancer, is diagnosed in roughly 3,000 new patients each year in the United States. Since it is rarely caught before the tumor has spread across the mesothelium, which is a covering of the lungs, the cancer is usually not operable. Chemotherapy and radiation may be administered but have a lesser efficacy than in other forms of cancer. Patients with mesothelioma generally do not live beyond two years after their diagnosis.