The Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) Cancer Center is one of the world’s leading research and treatment facilities for all types of cancer, including mesothelioma.
The scientists and physicians who make up the MSK team are known for their dedication and commitment. They are unusual in their collegiality and willingness to share data, and to collaborate in order to advance the goal of finding cures. A recent example of this type of teamwork may have advanced the successful treatment of malignant mesothelioma by several years.
The collaboration centers around a previous discovery about a genetic mutation known as BAP1. BAP1 has been identified as being present in more than half of all mesothelioma tumors, as well as in a rare eye cancer known as uveal melanoma and a type of kidney cancer as well.
In 2011, MSK pathologist Marc Ladanyi determined that BAP1 was a key player in mesothelioma tumors. More recently, his MSK colleague Dr. Ross Levine experimented with mine that had a mutated form of BAP1 to see what would happen when BAP1 was deactivated.
Levine found that the levels of an enzyme called EZH2 became elevated and that as a result mesothelioma cells began spreading like wildfire. He also found that by blocking the enzyme the tumor growth was stopped. Since EZH2 inhibitors have already been established as effective and safe in the treatment of other cancers, their use in mesothelioma patients seems particularly promising.
Working on the medications that block EZH2 falls under the realm of yet another group of MSK researchers specializing in a field of study known as epigenetic – they research the genetic changes that take place within mesotheliomas DNA to determine how drugs can be targeted to stop the harmful process of cell growth and metastases.
Together the group hopes that they will be able to take their studies beyond the laboratory and apply what they have learned to actual patients.
“Because of the way MSK works and the way we all collaborate together, Dr. Levine was able to connect with Dr. Ladanyi, physician-scientist and thoracic surgeon Prasad Adusumilli, and me to rapidly translate his findings into a clinical approach for mesothelioma,” medical oncologist Dr. Marjorie Zauderer said.
This is an encouraging story. It represents how we can work together to translate laboratory research into something that could benefit patients.”