Malignant mesothelioma (MM) is a tumor of the pleura for which there is no satisfactory treatment. It is an almost universally fatal disease, regardless of the stage of the tumor at the time of diagnosis. Current treatment modalities include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, although in some series none of these modalities is superior to no treatment at all. Because of the dismal prognosis for patients with MM, new modes of treatment are desperately needed. A promising area of research into the treatment of various malignancies is gene therapy. Recent studies have demonstrated the utility of exposing tumor cells to cells transduced to express the Herpes simplex virus gene for thymidine kinase (HSV-TK). By virtue of their expression of HSV-TK, the transduced cells are rendered susceptible to the antiviral drug, ganciclovir (GCV). Nearby untransduced tumor cells are killed by a so-called bystander effect. We are describing a Phase I clinical gene therapy trial for MM, which we are presently conducting at the Louisiana State University Medical Center of New Orleans. The purpose is to study the safety and to determine the maximal tolerated dose of an HSV-TK-transduced ovarian cancer cell line (PA1-STK cells) that is infused into the pleural cavities of patients. This infusion is followed by systemic administration of GCV. The hope is that administration of GCV will result in killing of both the transduced ovarian cancer cells as well as the nearby malignant cells.
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