Suicide gene therapy is an emerging treatment for mesothelioma. It has been studied to treat many different cancers, including bladder cancer, bone cancer, brain cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, head and neck cancer, liver cancer, neuroendocrine cancer, lung cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, soft tissue cancer, and spinal cord cancer. Suicide gene therapy may be especially promising for the pleural kind of mesothelioma.

How Suicide Gene Therapy Works

Suicide gene therapy involves the injection of a viral or bacterial gene into tumor cells. The gene codes for a particular enzyme that converts a previously ingested benign drug into a toxic one, killing the cancer cells. A “bystander effect” commonly occurs, in which neighboring cells that did not take up the enzyme gene themselves are also killed off. This effect seems to be essential to the overall effectiveness of suicide gene therapy.

The viral or bacterial enzyme gene is most commonly incorporated into tumor cells using a viral vector or a non-viral vector, such as 

  • Bacteria
  • Bacteriophages: virus-bacteria gene delivery systems
  • Cationic polymers: positively charged carriers
  • Cationic liposomes: positively charged sacs
  • Immunoliposomes: sacs with antibodies attached for targeted delivery to tumor cells
  • Exosomes: membrane-bound vessels
  • Nanoparticles: tiny transfer particles
  • Erythrocyte ghosts: emptied red blood cells 
  • Blood outgrowth endothelial cells and endothelial progenitor cells: blood vessel cells that allow targeted delivery to vascular tumor tissue
  • Bone marrow stromal cells: bone marrow cells with innate tumor-tracking properties
  • Neural stem cells: stem cells with innate tumor-targeting properties1

Benefits and Advantages of Suicide Gene Therapy 

Suicide gene therapy is a form of targeted cancer treatment. Its effectiveness in treating mesothelioma is still being determined, but studies using increased vector doses show promise in improving survival outcomes. Suicide gene therapy may be especially promising for malignant pleural mesothelioma because it is a relatively localized cancer that can be easily accessed through the chest wall. Moreover, the cancer’s thin layer of mesothelial cells provides a large surface area for rapid and extensive gene transfer.Unlike some cancer therapies like chemotherapy, suicide gene therapy has few side effects and poses little threat to the surrounding healthy tissue.

Suicide Gene Therapy for Mesothelioma

Suicide gene therapy is an emerging treatment for mesothelioma. Clinical trials studying its use in patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma have had promising results. The downside of using gene therapy to treat mesothelioma is that it is still an experimental treatment and requires participation in a clinical trial.3 Ongoing studies are being performed to enhance current gene therapy applications and develop new ones. Such studies are critical in improving survival and quality of life for individuals with mesothelioma. With future research, we may even find a cure for the disease.

Suicide Gene Therapy