Mesothelioma is just one of many diseases that are benefiting from this research. Today we’ll look at some promising research into pharmaceutical treatment of the asbestos-caused disease.
Just as it’s impossible to predict who will develop mesothelioma after exposure to asbestos, because not everyone will, it’s a challenge to know which therapies will work for each patient. Because mesothelioma is nearly always detected in late stages (III and IV), it’s critical that treatment begin as soon after diagnosis as possible and that the treatment be effective as rapidly as possible. Sometimes, doctors will have to cycle through several different therapies before they get results.
The Japanese research we’re excited about is a method to predict whether a patient will respond to a specific mesothelioma drug therapy – Alimta (Pemetrexed). Alimta is a chemotherapy drug often used in combination with cisplantin, another chemotherapy drug. Alimta is used to treat lung cancers including advanced nonsquamos non-small cell lung cancer and malignant pleural mesothelioma when surgery is not an option to treat pleural mesothelioma.
The trial and error process that oncologists have to take when treating mesothelioma can eat up time that patients don’t have because of the growth rate of late stage cancer. Being able to predict which therapies will be effective could be a real game changer. Researchers at Nippon Medical School’s Department of Pulmonary Medicine and Oncology in Tokyo, Japan may have begun to crack the code.
While the research is complicated, we can sum it up this way. The researchers were able to profile the genes of patients’ mesothelioma cells and identified Osteopontin as a key indicator. It is a linking protein that is present in bones and some immune cells including T-cells – you’ve probably heard your doctor discuss your T-cell count. High amounts of T-cells in your blood are a cancer indicator.
In some patients, Osteopontin (called OPN for short) is over expressed meaning there are high quantities of the gene. Mesothelioma patients studied that responded well to treatment with Alimta had high amounts of OPN present. To detect over expression of OPN, your doctor orders a common test called a quantitative PCR and/or western blot analysis both of which can be performed rapidly to find out if the patient is a good candidate for Alimta therapy.
So far, Alimta is the only drug approved specifically for malignant pleural mesothelioma. It works by blocking the rapid growth of cancer cells. By testing for this biomarker, doctors can know if Alimta is an option and if it isn’t appropriate, can consider other therapies to try and fast-track therapy. The earlier the mesothelioma is detected, the more promising the outcome. And the earlier effective treatment is administered, the better the chances the patient will be able to postpone the fatal outcomes associated with this terrible disease.
If you’ve recently been diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, share this article with your oncologist. After initial diagnosis of your illness, it’s important that you focus on your therapy and family.
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