Gene therapy gives new hope for mesothelioma sufferers


A US expert in gene therapy claims that mesothelioma could soon become regarded as a chronic, manageable disease – but no longer a necessarily fatal one.

According to Dr Dan Sterman, work is currently in progress by scientists looking to use gene therapy to fight mesothelioma, a cancer believed to have no cure, which attacks the lining of the lungs and is related to asbestos exposure.

Dr Sterman is optimistic that accepted treatment for mesothelioma will in due course be replaced by gene therapy, a comparatively new technique that uses DNA to fight illness.

In over 10 years, the researcher has seen gene therapy treatment improve at least 2 patients' long-term health. Dr Sterman said that some patients have lived 10 or more years after receiving gene therapy and nothing else.

He cites the case of an Australian woman who is still alive after receiving standalone gene therapy, with no surgery or chemotherapy, in 1998. The fact that the cancer has not reappeared (although she has occasional pleurisy symptoms) gives Dr Sterman cause to believe that, years after gene therapy, the body 'remembers' how to attack cancer cells.

Gene therapy was introduced just over 2 decades ago when scientists determined that genetic abnormalities lead to certain diseases. In time doctors discovered that genes could be altered as a corrective measure.

Despite these advances, Dr Sterman says a cure has been elusive. However, in certain cases prompting the body to fight its own battle has slowed or even stopped the growth of cancer cells.

Since Dr Sterman believes that gene therapy is most effective with early-stage cancer, patients who were recently diagnosed with mesothelioma are being enrolled in the trial.

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