Baylor Professor Receives $2.5 Million Grant for Mesothelioma Study

A professor seeking biological markers predictive of mesothelioma response to immunotherapy has been granted a $2.5 million research award to help him pursue his studies. Dr. Bryan Burt, Associate Professor of Surgery and Chief of the Division of General Thoracic Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine was recently notified that he will be receiving a five-year R37 MERIT Award for his project.

Mesothelioma Study Will Develop Test to Predict Response to Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors 

In explaining his research, Dr. Burt said, “Malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM) is a fatal cancer of the lining of the lungs that has defeated standard therapies for decades. In recent years, emerging clinical data has shown that treatment with a form of immunotherapy called immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) results in meaningful extension of life in half of patients with MPM, but is associated with immune-related side effects.” 

Because some mesothelioma patients experience adverse effects, he hopes to identify those who are more likely to respond well to ICIs before dosing in order to avoid discomfort in those who are not likely to respond. He also hopes to be able to predict the strength of an individual patient’s response. “In other words, whether the tumor will completely or partially shrink or just remain stable for long periods of time, which is important too,” he said. “We hope to design a test that would allow us to predict those possible outcomes.”

Researcher Believes Mesothelioma Tissues Hold Answers

According to Dr. Burt, some mesothelioma patients’ tumors have a specific immune cell composition that he believes may hold the key. “In addition to determining how many cells there are of each type, we also study tissue architecture to see how these cells are organized in the tumor. Are they close to blood vessels? Are they close to each other? Our preliminary data showed that tissue immune cell architecture in the tumor also predicts response to treatment,” he said. He also hopes to get answers to what mechanisms within the cells are supporting response to the ICIs.

“Our preliminary data suggested that MPMs with high levels of neoantigens, new tumor surface molecules that can warn the immune system of the presence of the tumor, is not the only requirement for responding to ICIs. It’s also important to take into consideration molecules called MHC, which present neoantigens to the immune system and facilitate the stimulation of the soldier immune cells. We have found that when both neoantigens and certain MHC molecules are there, the patient responds well to the therapy.” He hopes to translate his findings into a test that will be useful for future treatment.

Immunotherapy holds great promise for the treatment of malignant mesothelioma, but there is a great deal more that needs to be understood before it is widely used. If you would like information on treatment for mesothelioma or other resources, contact the Patient Advocates at today at 1-800-692-8608.

Terri Heimann Oppenheimer

Terri Oppenheimer

Terri Heimann Oppenheimer is the head writer of our news blog. She graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in English. Terri believes that knowledge is power and she is committed to sharing news about the impact of mesothelioma, the latest research and medical breakthroughs, and victims’ stories.

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