Clinical Study Discovers New Treatment Method May Eliminate Mesothelioma Tumors

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Mesothelioma is one of the toughest types of cancer to treat, and no therapy yet has consistently eliminated tumors.

A new treatment might be the answer many patients have long hoped for.

A study conducted at Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine has proven success in eliminating advanced-stage mesothelioma tumors in mice in just a few days. The new mesothelioma treatment method involves the administration of Rice’s cytokine “drug factory” implants and a checkpoint inhibitor drug next to the tumor site.

“It’s very hard to treat mesothelioma tumors in mice, like it is in human beings,” said Dr. Bryan Burt, professor and chief of Baylor’s Division of Thoracic Therapy in the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery. “… In fact, I’ve not seen these mesothelioma tumors in mice be eradicated, with such efficacy, as we have in this mouse model.”

This discovery sounds like a medical breakthrough for mesothelioma patients, but what exactly does this mean?


Explaining Rice University’s Drug Factory Implants For Mesothelioma Treatment 

Mesothelioma treatment can be difficult due to the rare and aggressive nature of the cancer. The team of Rice and Baylor researchers discovered a new method, proven successful in other cancers, to treat mesothelioma and destroy tumors altogether. 

The collaboration of this team of medical researchers comes after Baylor saw Rice and the success of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center eradicating ovarian cancer and colorectal tumors in mice in less than a week, one of the program’s many successful clinical studies. Baylor College of Medicine researchers admired the team’s ambitious research, which returned highly impressive results. Baylor College of Medicine researchers approached Rice University researchers in hopes of leveraging the same system for mesothelioma.  

The team tested Rice University’s drug factory implants by themselves and in combination with checkpoint inhibitors drugs. According to the study, researchers found the drug factory implants, by themselves, eliminated tumors in more than half of the treated animals. When researchers combined drug factory implants with checkpoint inhibitor drugs – a type of immunotherapy for mesothelioma and other cancers – tumors were completely gone in all subjects. 

The drug factory implants, or cytokines, at the focal point of this study were constructed in the lab of Rice University’s bioengineer Omid Veiseh. Cytokines are types of small proteins that are part of cell signaling.

Researchers manufactured the cytokine “drug factory” implants to produce continuous, high doses of interleukin-2 (IL-2), which is one of two proteins approved by the FDA for cancer treatment.

Interleukin-2 for Mesothelioma Treatment

Interleukin-2 is a natural compound made of white blood cells and other cells in the body to boost the development of the immune system and fight off cancer cells, shrinking and eliminating tumors. 

The cytokine “drug factories” are composed of alginate beads filled with tens of thousands of cells genetically engineered to generate natural interleukin-2. The cytokine “drug factories” are extremely small, measuring only 1.5 millimeters wide and can be implanted by minimally invasive surgery. Once the drug factories are implanted, they begin delivering high doses of IL-2 directly to the tumor sites. 

Pairing With Immune Checkpoint Inhibitor Immunotherapy

In this study, the cytokine “drug factory” beads were implanted next to tumors and inside the lining of the lungs and chest wall, or the pleura, both by themselves and in combination with immunotherapy drugs called checkpoint inhibitors.

The immunotherapy drugs approved for treating mesothelioma are Opdivo (nivolumab) and Yervoy (ipilimumab). Opdivo is an immune checkpoint inhibitor for the PD-1 and PD-L1 checkpoint. Yervoy inhibits the CTLA-4 and B7 checkpoint. These checkpoints impede the immune system from fighting and killing mesothelioma cells. The checkpoint inhibitor drugs shut down the checkpoints and keep the immune system active and alert.

Omid Veiseh, inventor of the cytokine “drug factories”, reported that combining interleukin-2 and the checkpoint inhibitors could potentially be successful in training cells to reactivate the immune system and fight mesothelioma if it recurs. He also stated that his team of researchers has been in communication with the FDA and expects to begin a second clinical trial for mesothelioma next year. 

Medical breakthroughs, like this one pioneered at Rice University, are crucial in the fight against mesothelioma. Although there is not a definite cure for mesothelioma yet, great progress is being made.

If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or have any health-related questions, contact Registered Nurse Karen Ritter. She can help answer your questions and assist you in navigating your diagnosis.


    Sources & Author

    ‘Drug factory’ implants eliminate mesothelioma tumors in mice. Rice University Media and Relations. Retrieved from: Accessed: 09/09/22.


    Interleukin-2. National Cancer Institute. Retrieved from: Accessed: 09/12/22.

About the Writer, Camryn Keeble

Camryn Keeble is a content writer and community outreach member for Mesothelioma Guide. She creates mesothelioma-related content for the Mesothelioma Guide website. Camryn’s goal is to decipher advanced information regarding mesothelioma into informative, simplified content to educate those affected by mesothelioma. She also works diligently to raise awareness of mesothelioma and its effects on patients and their loved ones by participating in daily outreach.

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