Mesothelioma is a rare and deadly cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. The disease can lay dormant for decades after exposure, and symptoms often mimic other diseases, making it difficult to diagnose. Recently though, a team of international researchers may have made a breakthrough in identifying blood proteins to help diagnose the disease. This is good news for asbestos exposure victims, for whom early diagnosis may mean the difference between life and death.
The research team, led by Dr. Haining Yang at the University of Hawaii Cancer Center, has previously demonstrated the effect of the High-Mobility Group Box 1 (HMGB1) protein on mesothelioma cells, stimulating their growth and proliferation. Now their research has revealed how isoforms, or protein variants, can be used to detect mesothelioma in its early stages. Normal mesothelial cells – which form the lining of the pleura, pericardium, and peritoneum – die when exposed to asbestos and release a non-acetylated form of HMGB1, while cancerous cells produce hyper-acetylated HMGB1.
HMGB1 Isoforms May Help Diagnose Mesothelioma
While simply testing for HMGB1 in the blood may not be conclusive, checking for specific isoforms of HMGB1 can identify individuals at risk for developing mesothelioma, especially in populations with a history of exposure to asbestos. The presence of hyper-acetylated HMGB1 can signal tumor growth in a patient, and doctors can then intervene to try to prevent the disease from spreading. Methods of isolating isoforms are not currently widely available, but Dr. Yang’s team is hopeful that through collaboration with other universities and hospitals, they can devise a practical solution to diagnose mesothelioma earlier.
Yang and her team were curious about this dual phenomenon caused by asbestos exposure and sought to determine why some cells die, while others mutate. They discovered that when mesothelial cells are exposed to asbestos, they undergo necrotic cell death and secrete HMGB1. This secretion causes inflammation in the mesothelium membranes, which triggers an immune response. The immune system intervenes to prevent further cell death in the mesothelium, but the cells have already been damaged. Asbestos fibers have a strong bio-persistence, meaning they stay in a person’s system for a long period of time, which perpetuates the cycle of HMGB1 secretion, inflammation, and immune response.
Release of HMGB1 Promotes Tumor Growth in Mesothelium
It is still unclear whether the secretion of the protein is a cause or an effect of the proliferation of the disease. Other studies, however, have shown that inhibiting HMGB1 can help halt the progression of malignant mesothelioma. Curiously, the anti-inflammatory properties of aspirin have proven effective in preventing tumor growth, as they help to block the inflammation caused by HMGB1.
Mesothelioma is a relatively rare cancer, with approximately 3,000 new diagnosis in the United States each year. Consequently, there are fewer researchers in this space exploring diagnostic and treatment options for asbestos exposure victims. Breakthroughs like this are important, but it will take more years of research before they can be fully implemented and have an impact on those at risk for mesothelioma.
Philadelphia Mesothelioma Lawyers at Shein Law Advocate for Mesothelioma Victims
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma or other asbestos-related disease, call the Philadelphia mesothelioma lawyers at Shein Law. We will thoroughly review the facts of your case to determine who is at fault for your asbestos exposure and fight for the compensation you deserve. With offices conveniently located in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey we represent asbestos exposure victims throughout Pennsylvania and South Jersey. Call us today at 1-877-SHEINLAW (743-4652) or contact us online to speak to an experienced mesothelioma lawyer.