Alternative Therapies Prove Hopeful in Treatment of Mesothelioma Cases

Mesothelioma is a deadly form of cancer with few treatment options. However, recent studies and ongoing clinical trials are providing hope that alternatives may soon be available to improve the quality of life for terminal patients.

The cause of malignant mesothelioma is directly tied to asbestos exposure. In years previous, asbestos was regularly used in certain industries, such as construction and electrical. To make materials heat and fire resistant, manufacturers would include asbestos. Unfortunately, when the asbestos was disturbed, the fibers separated into fine particles that were easily inhaled or ingested. Those fibers would lodge in a person's tissue and slowly, over time, develop into diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer or mesothelioma. When the disease was finally detected and diagnosed, it would have a death grip on its host leaving little hope for recovery or survival.

In the past, traditional treatments for mesothelioma have included surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Though these treatments may have some beneficial impact, the person often suffers severe side effects, including:

  • Hair loss
  • Weakness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Drop in blood count

With the intention of extending a patient's life while minimizing the unpleasant side effects of traditional treatments, researchers from the Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota have partnered to discover and develop target-specific alternatives to traditional chemotherapy.

One alternative under study is to harness the tenacity of the measles virus by engineering it to target and kill mesothelioma cells. Known as the measles virus vector (MV-NIS), the virus doses cancer cells with concentrated radioactive iodine effectively destroying mesothelioma tumors. Clinical trials are now being conducted on an experimental group of patients to further test the effectiveness of MV-NIS.

Another study being led by Mayo Oncologist Julian Molina focuses on another alternative form of treatment for the disease. In lab tests, Dr. Molina found an FDA-approved drug pazopanib - manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline under the trade name Votrient - to be effective at killing mesothelioma cells. By targeting the new blood vessels in cancerous tissue, the medication effectively blocked nutrients and oxygen leading to the death of the diseased cells. Clinical tests are being conducted.

"The median survival for someone diagnosed with this disease is 9 to 12 months," said Dr. Molina in an article published in the November 10 edition of Discovery's Edge, Mayo Clinic's Online Research Magazine. "We were able to show that pazopanib improved survival in our patients by about six months, to 18.6 months."

Though the alternative therapies being tested are presenting positive data, Dr. Molina cautions patients to not become overly hopeful. The treatments are intended to improve survival without compromising quality of life. "We're not curing mesothelioma with this treatment," he said in the article.