Researchers Discover Protein To Be Targeted in Treatment of Malignant Mesothelioma
Researchers at the University of Hawaii, assisted by Michele Carbone, MD, PhD, the country’s premier authority on mesothelioma and director of the University of Hawaii Cancer Center, have once again broken ground with a landmark mesothelioma study. The team of researchers believes they have pinpointed a protein that is a key player in the development of malignant mesothelioma.
The researchers were led by Haining Yang, Ph.D at the University of Hawaii Cancer Center who has dedicated much of her research to finding an effective treatment or cure for the rare cancer known to be caused by exposure to asbestos. Previously, Yang found that mesothelioma cells are “addicted” to HMGB1 (high-mobility group box 1), a protein that is known to be an inflammatory mediator and is released by damaged mesothelial cells after being exposed to asbestos, and that HMGB1 contributes to mesothelioma tumor growth and survival.
The researchers reported in Cancer Research that the presence of the protein influences the growth and survival of mesothelioma cells. When the researchers inhibited the HMGB1 using anti-bodies in laboratory mice, it reduced the growth of mesothelioma cells in the mice and extended their survival. Inhibiting HMGB1 interferes with the inflammation process.
The team of investigators, including Yang, Carbone and renowned mesothelioma expert Harvey Pass of the New York University School of Medicine, concluded that their findings show that mesothelioma cancer cells rely on HMGB1 to grow, “suggesting a novel therapeutic approach for malignant mesothelioma treatment.”
“We are very excited about this discovery,” said Dr. Yang. “The next step is to translate this discovery into actual treatments for mesothelioma patients.”
Mesothelioma is a highly aggressive, rare cancer known to be caused by exposure to asbestos. Most often diagnoses are not made until symptoms appear and the disease has progressed to an advanced stage leaving the patient with life-threatening complications. According to the press release announcing the discovery, 5% of patients diagnosed at an early stage have survivals of 5-10 years or more.
The researchers point out that the identification of new biomarkers for early detection and novel targets for mesothelioma prevention and therapy, such as HMGB1, are sorely needed.
Yang and Carbone were building on earlier research that answered the age old question of why asbestos causes mesothelioma by citing elevated levels of HMGB1.
Carbone and his team have also published studies reporting that erionite, a mineral found in gravel, leads to mesothelioma, and that the number of Americans expected to be diagnosed with mesothelioma could reach 20 million.