Mesotheliomas are a type of lung cancer caused by asbestos. Despite all our medical advances, they remain some of the hardest cancers to beat. Professor Dean Fennell, a medical doctor specialising in cancers of the chest area, is determined to change this.
Dean is taking a new approach in the fight against mesothelioma. By boosting the anti-cancer potential of our own immune system in the same way it defends us from viruses and bacteria, he is helping the immune system track down and fight cancer cells. But cancer cells are very good at avoiding this attack.
One way that mesothelioma cells dodge the immune system is by producing a molecule called PDL-1. When cells of the immune system encounter PDL-1, they are soothed into a sleep-like state – a bit like if they had taken a sleeping tablet. Once out for the count, they’re unable to destroy the cancer cells. Dean is testing a drug that interferes with PDL-1 and wakes the immune system up, leaving it free to take out the tumour.
Now, thanks to support from Stand Up To Cancer, more than 100 people have been enrolled onto the trial to test this drug. Dean is starting to see awesome results in the clinic – including one patient whose tumour almost entirely disappeared after just six months on the treatment. This could be the first step in providing the evidence we need to change clinical practice.