The mRNA Technology Used in COVID-19 Vaccines May Help Treat Occupational Cancer
In the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, medical researchers have found that the mRNA technology that is currently used in the vaccines against infection with the novel virus could be very beneficial to people who struggle with occupational cancer. Annually, more than 200,000 people lose their lives to occupational cancer, half of these deaths being the result of asbestos exposure in the workplace.
The most prevalent malignant diseases caused by occupational asbestos exposure are lung cancer and mesothelioma, and mRNA technology may improve the prognosis of these patients, which is usually very poor. Every year, approximately 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in our country, while up to 4% of lung cancer cases are the consequence of asbestos exposure on the job.
How Do mRNA Vaccines Work?
The new mRNA vaccines, whose purpose is to prevent infection with COVID-19, work by using synthetic code that prompts the cells in the body to recognize the virus and subsequently activate the immune system of the patient to destroy it. It is important to mention that mRNA technology is not really new in cancer research, as it had been studied for a long time before the emergence of COVID-19 vaccines. Unlike most vaccines, those that use mRNA technology do not contain a piece of the virus against which the body forms antibodies to prevent or fight infection. Instead, vaccines with mRNA technology give the body information about how the virus looks so that it can create antibodies to eliminate it if it is present.
When it comes to cancer treatment, once received by the patient, the mRNA vaccine trains the immune system to identify a certain protein that is present on the surface of malignant cells and to eventually destroy it. A 2015 study from the medical journal BioMed Research International discovered that mesothelioma tumors express the same protein that mRNA vaccines aim to eliminate from the body. Therefore, after being given the vaccine, the mesothelioma patient may experience a higher survival rate, as well as a better quality of life, since the vaccine slows down the progression of cancer significantly.
The Link Between mRNA Vaccines and Immunotherapy
Because more conventional treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy usually fail to help people with mesothelioma and lung cancer, as cancer is mostly found in advanced stages, immunotherapy is the go-to treatment for these patients. Immunotherapy works by prompting the immune system of the individual to fight the disease. Similarly, mRNA vaccines involve the immune system of the patient by training it to identify the protein that exists on the surface of cancerous cells in the body.
When they are officially approved for use in the treatment of occupational cancer by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, mRNA vaccines will most likely play a crucial role in immunotherapy. Shortly after the cancer patient receives the vaccine, mRNA technology will express tumor antigens in antigen-presenting cells, prompt antigen-presenting cells activation, and perform innate or adaptive immune stimulation, which will ultimately enhance the effectiveness of immunotherapy.
mRNA Vaccines for the Treatment of Lung Cancer
In the context of lung cancer treatment, a 2014 study published in the Iranian Biomedical Journal found that the carcinoembryonic antigen mRNA, a protein specific to malignant cells, was present in 24 out of 30 patients with this disease. Moreover, the sensitivity of mRNA was estimated to be 80%, which is why mRNA vaccines yield very promising results in the treatment of lung cancer as well. In addition to treating lung cancer, mRNA technology could also be used as a sensitive and specific marker in peripheral blood for the diagnosis of lung cancer.
Lung cancer tumors express the same protein as mesothelioma tumors, which is the one targeted by mRNA vaccines, which means that they could be beneficial for the treatment of this disease too. Accordingly, lung cancer patients may soon enjoy more survival years and a higher quality of life. Unfortunately, most people who develop lung cancer as a result of asbestos exposure find out about their disease when it is way too late for standard treatments to be effective, so mRNA technology could be life-saving for these people.
While medical researchers have not yet discovered how to exactly use mRNA technology in cancer care, they have undeniably made a breakthrough in terms of innovative cancer treatment. Additional studies are required to determine which mesothelioma and lung cancer patients are good candidates for receiving mRNA vaccines as part of immunotherapy, but the more COVID-19 vaccines are researched and developed, the more chances of discovering the full potential of mRNA technology for cancer treatment researchers will have.
About the Author
Responsible for the financial matters of the law firm and for case evaluation, Jonathan Sharp is the CFO at Environmental Litigation Group, P.C. Their attorneys and legal team have been seeking compensation on behalf of victims of toxic exposure, including occupational asbestos exposure, since 1990. Jonathan Sharp is also in charge of the management of firm assets, financial analysis, client relations, and the collection and proper distribution of the funds.