March 29, 2014 – A new study examined the effectiveness of manipulating a specific molecule as a prospective treatment for mesothelioma. The study, which appeared in the journal Cell Cycle, was conducted by a group of researchers at the Sbarro Health Research Organization in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The researchers tested two molecules, one known as RITA, an acronym for reactivation of p53 and induction of tumor cell apoptosis. The protein p53 is a natural tumor suppressor. When a patient develops mesothelioma, the function of p53 is affected, in that it is basically rendered inactive and its ability to suppress tumors is reduced. This allows cancer cells to grow and divide. The researchers wanted to determine if they could restore the function of p53 and thereby reactivate a naturally occurring process in the body known as apoptosis. Apoptosis is a sequence of cellular events that causes cells to self-destruct.
In this study, RITA and another molecule known as nutlin-3 were tested in multiple mesothelioma cell lines including epithelioid, biphasic and sarcomatoid. In both the epithelioid and biphasic types of mesothelioma, RITA was able to reactivate p53 and also achieve vigorous apoptosis. Tumor growth was reduced and healthy cells were not affected. The results were not as favorable within the sarcomatoid mesothelioma cell subgroup. RITA was also determined to have a synergistic effect when used in combination with cisplatin, a standard chemotherapy drug routinely used in the treatment of mesothelioma.
While nutlin-3 demonstrated an ability to slow mesothelioma tumor growth as well, it did not trigger the apoptosis response that RITA was able to. Nutlin-3 also had a negative affect on healthy cells.
Human clinical trials would be the next step toward determining if RITA could be included as key treatment option for mesothelioma patients. Further studies using RITA in combination with other potential drugs that also have the ability to activate apoptosis may help prove whether this treatment could be beneficial in the more aggressive cases of mesothelioma.
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