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Treating Mesothelioma at Baylor Lung Institute

The Lung Institute at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston opened in 2014 with immediate credibility, quickly becoming a place where mesothelioma patients and their families can turn with great confidence.

The history of Baylor College of Medicine, the ongoing excellence of its Dan L. Duncan Cancer Center, and the long-standing reputation of Dr. David Sugarbaker, the Lung Institute’s inaugural director who died Aug. 29, 2018, have combined to make it a leader from Day 1.

The Lung Institute will be developing comprehensive programs across departments and disciplines, developing new therapies for diseases of the lung, including pleural mesothelioma, emphysema, asthma, cystic fibrosis, and other respiratory illnesses.

The College of Medicine is located in the Texas Medical Center, the world’s largest, health sciences complex, a 1,000-acre complex that includes 49 independent institutions. It has opportunities and resources that are unmatched.

Baylor College of Medicine combines renowned clinical and translational research with an excellent surgical program and great patient care. It has long been a world leader in genomic research, which will be vital in the new pursuit of better therapies to treat mesothelioma.

“Our goal is to use all these resources to get new treatments to patients as soon as possible,” Sugarbaker told Asbestos.com in 2014. He also served as chief of thoracic surgery. “Baylor College of Medicine, and what it can offer, is unique.”

Lung Institute at Baylor a Sugarbaker Legacy

Sugarbaker earned his reputation as the nation’s foremost authority on mesothelioma through two decades at Brigham & Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, where he founded and directed the International Mesothelioma Program.

He is credited with helping refine the complex extrapleural pneumonectomy surgery, which has extended the lives of thousands of mesothelioma patients, and improving other surgical interventions. He trained dozens of younger thoracic surgeons, many of whom become mesothelioma specialists across the country.

Under his leadership, Brigham & Women’s developed a multimodality treatment approach that became a blueprint for others to follow with mesothelioma. The laboratory at the International Program in Boston helped develop personalized therapy programs that attracted patients from across the country. He has been lauded for his work by both patients and peers.

He came to the Baylor Medical Center in 2014 with the promise of resources that would allow him to expand his work and his reach, helping him help patients even more.

“This was a chance to do it all on a larger scale,” he said. “My commitment to patients, as a caretaker and a doctor, will be as strong, or stronger, than ever before.”

Dan L. Duncan Cancer Center Combines Research with Treatment

The cancer center is a collaborative effort that includes the Ben Taub Hospital, the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center, the Texas Children’s Hospital and the Baylor Medical Center. A designated National Cancer Institute (NCI) facility, it combines the researchers of Baylor with some of the finest cancer care treatment available anywhere.

With a multidisciplinary approach, the Duncan Cancer Center offers advanced care for a wide variety of major cancers. They include:

  • Brain
  • Breast
  • Heat and Neck
  • Leukemia and Lymphoma
  • Lung and Pleural Mesothelioma
  • Musculoskeletal
  • Pediatric
  • Skin and Melanoma
  • Cervical, Ovarian and other Gynecological Cancers
  • Colon, Liver, Pancreatic and other Gastrointestinal Cancers
  • Bladder, Kidney, Prostate, Penile, Testes, and other Genitourinary Cancers.

The cancer center emphasizes targeted therapies that are a product of the innovative research being done at Baylor, focusing on each patient’s unique genetics and the exact characteristics of the particular cancer. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to cancer care.

There is a consistent theme at the center that focuses on early detection, better preventive methods and more effective treatments that include fewer of the traditional side effects.

Baylor’s Lung Institute Using Tumor Treating Fields for Mesothelioma

Baylor was one of the first cancer centers in the country to begin using the innovative Tumor Treating Fields as another therapeutic option for patients with pleural mesothelioma.

Also known as TTFields, this novel therapy involves alternating electrical fields designed to limit cancer growth. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration first approved its use for mesothelioma in 2019.

The portable medical device can be worn for up to 18 hours daily, most often given in combination with chemotherapy for patients with unresectable disease.

Electrical fields are delivered through insulated pads that adhere to the skin. Extensive research has shown that the alternating frequencies can disrupt proteins that spark tumor-cell division.

Lung Institute at Baylor Promotes Research

Research is at the core of what makes the Baylor College of Medicine so well regarded, ranking first in the country for federal funding from the National Institutes of Health (NCI) for genetics and second for Anatomy and Cell Biology. It received over $178 million from the NCI in 2013 to help fund research, which ranked 19th overall amount United States Medical Schools.

Its Office of Research provides the support that includes putting investigators and sponsors together; developing strategic programs that support research; provides funding for new and continuing projects; and provides clinical support that advances healthcare and assures adherence to state and federal regulations.

The goal of our program today is quality of life extension leading to a cure. There is hope now, and anything is possible. We are seeing things we never saw before with this disease, going places we’ve never been.
Dr. David Sugarbaker

It is commitment to research that attracted Sugarbaker and many others before him, to join the Baylor Medical Center. Researchers at Baylor have been at the forefront of many major advances in biomedical sciences.

Here are a few from a historical perspective:

  • Developed a translational technique to train T-cells to kill cancer associated with the Epstein-Bar virus.
  • Sequenced and annotated the first personalized genome system.
  • Pioneered gene chip technology, streamlining the diagnosis of chromosomal diseases.
  • Discovered the gene that causes Rett syndrome.
  • Pioneered the field of molecular endocrinology.

Mesothelioma Clinical Trials at Lung Institute at Baylor College of Medicine

  • Phase I clinical trial to determine the maximum tolerated dose of intrathoracic delivery of pemetrexed (Alimta) when used in combination with cisplatin and aggressive surgery.
  • Phase II clinical trial to study the safety and efficacy of giving an intratumoral injection of MTG201 — a novel gene therapy — in combination with nivolumab (Opdivo) for patients who have failed front-line chemotherapy.