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Immunotherapy Vaccine/Surgery Combination Cause for Hope

In a development that has been described as “promising”, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania’s Abramson Cancer Center have announced that by performing surgery to debulk a mesothelioma tumor, vaccine-based immunotherapy offers a viable, positive option for mesothelioma patients.

There has been a tremendous amount of attention paid to the future of immunotherapy in the treatment of many cancers, and scientists have developed vaccines that have proven effective in some cases, but that has not been the case for those suffering from malignant pleural mesothelioma. According to thoracic surgeon and director of the Thoracic Surgery Research Laboratory at Penn Medicine Dr. Sunil Singhal, “What we’ve seen so far is that the vaccine by itself – with advanced disease – doesn’t seem to work very well.” The problem is that tumors that are well established – which is often the case with mesothelioma tumors – develop the ability to suppress the immune system, and thus far researchers have been unable to breach this barrier.

Malignant mesothelioma is a disease with a long latency period, and by the time it is diagnosed the tumors are often very well established. But the Penn group has found that by using a vaccine that is a modified version of Listeria, and using it in combination with surgery to remove the bulk of the tumor, there is a much better chance of seeing positive results. “If the vaccine can rev up or amplify the immune system and we take out the tumors, it can attack what’s left over and finish the job. There is real potential here.”

According to the report published in the journal Immunology Letters, the scientists first tested the effectiveness of the vaccine of tumor growth on immature tumors that they created themselves, as well as on tumors that were well established. They found that the vaccine was not effective in tumors that were mature, or when administered at the same time as tumor reduction surgery. However, they found that “Surgical acytoreduction of established tumors restored the anti tumor potency of the therapeutic vaccine, with significantly reduced tumor burden at post-operative day 18. We found that surgery reduced MDSCs to levels comparable to those in tumor-naive mice. This study demonstrates that cytoreduction surgery restores the efficacy of cancer vaccines for malignant pleural mesothelioma by reducing tumor-related immunosuppression that impairs immunotherapy.”

Terri Oppenheimer

Terri Oppenheimer is an independent writer, editor and proofreader. She graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in English. Her dreams of a writing career were diverted by a need to pay her bills. She spent a few years providing copy for a major retailer, then landed a lucrative career in advertising sales. With college bills for all three of her kids paid, she left corporate America for a return to her original goal of writing. She specializes in providing content for websites and finds tremendous enjoyment in the things she learns while doing her research. Her specific areas of interest include health and fitness, medical research, and the law.

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