Last Monday, in journal proceedings from the National Academy of Sciences, researchers published an answer to a question plaguing the research community across the world for over half a century: How does asbestos cause cancer? This remarkable discovery is already yielding a clinical trial, and may help researchers prevent or slow mesothelioma growth in exposed and affected individuals.
The study, led by Drs. Haining Yang and Michele Carbone at the University of Hawai’i Cancer Research Center and funded by theMesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (Meso Foundation) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI), shows that asbestos deposited into the tissues initiates a sequence of processes resulting in inflammatory reactions, which then cause mutations promoting tumor growth. HMGB1, a molecule that is released by cells exposed to asbestos, regulates this inflammatory reaction. HMGB1 triggers the chronic inflammatory process that over the course of many years leads to mesothelioma.
In their paper, Drs. Yang and Carbone propose the notion that by targeting HMGB1 and by preventing these inflammatory reactions from occurring, it may be possible to decrease the incidence of cancer and mesothelioma among exposed populations, and slow tumor growth in those already affected. This premise will be tested in the upcoming clinical trial targeting a region of Turkey where more than half of the population dies of mesothelioma.
“I am very hopeful about this discovery. Now that we know that the chronic inflammation caused by asbestos drives tumor growth, we can test different medicines that can suppress inflammation. Aspirin was shown to decrease the incidence of colon cancer, a tumor that like mesothelioma, is associated with chronic inflammation,” says Michele Carbone, MD.
Dr. Carbone doesn’t yet know if aspirin can help decrease the incidence of mesothelioma among exposed individuals, or if more sophisticated therapies to specifically target HMGB1 are needed, but hopes that the upcoming clinical trial in Turkey will provide those answers.
“We will start to see if targeting HMGB1 will help us detect mesothelioma in the early stages and/or to prevent it in Turkey – if the results are promising we will bring the trials back to the USA,” continues Dr. Carbone. “We are eager to start, and are very grateful to the Meso Foundation and to the many patients that support it, because it is thanks to their support that we were able to get this project off the ground.”
“Dr. Carbone’s discovery is very exciting for our organization and for the thousands of mesothelioma patients and families who struggle with this disease today. Results like these bring hope to our community and reinforce the fact that research is the key to ending mesothelioma,” says Kathy Wiedemer, Interim Executive Director of the Meso Foundation.
Mesothelioma is a malignant tumor of the lining of the lung, abdomen, or heart caused by exposure to asbestos. Medical experts consider it one of the most aggressive and deadly of all cancers. For decades, the need to develop effective treatments was mostly ignored. Thus, only one FDA-approved mesothelioma treatment exists, extending average survival by three months.
The Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation is the national non-profit dedicated to finding a cure for mesothelioma by funding research, providing education and support for patients, and leading advocacy efforts to increase federal funding for mesothelioma research. To date, the Foundation has funded $6.4 million through its peer-reviewed grants program. The Foundation unites doctors, researchers, patients and families, legal advocates, union representatives, and other affected and concerned individuals to share information and advance mesothelioma research. For more information, please visit www.curemeso.org.