The role of cancer stem cells in malignant mesothelioma

by Alexey Bersenev on February 24, 2011 · 0 comments

in cancer stem cell

I’m continue to experiment with guest posts. If you would like to write something in focus of my blog, let me know.

this is a guest post by Eric Stevenson*

Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive cancer that affects the lining of the internal organs, most commonly in the chest (pleural mesothelium) or abdomen (peritoneal mesothelium). More rarely, this cancer can affect the lining of the heart (pericardium) or testes (tunica vaginalis). About 80% of mesothelioma cases can be directly traced back to exposure to asbestos, a heat-resistant mineral once used widely in factories as well as in the construction and shipbuilding industries. Tiny fibers of asbestos can become airborne, and once inhaled, lodge in the lining of the lungs or other tissues, where they can cause inflammation that leads to cancer. The exact process by which the fibers cause inflammation has been debated, but a 2010 study by Robert R. Traill hypothesizes that the trigger is both mechanical (the fibers physically interfere with mitosis) and optical (the fibers alter metabolic system signals).

Part of what makes this cancer so deadly is that mesothelioma symptoms do not appear until 20 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos, and when symptoms do become apparent, they are similar to those of other, less serious lung conditions. The delay in diagnosis often means that standard cancer treatments are rarely effective. Surgery in itself is often ineffective because by the time the cancer is detected, it has usually already metastasized beyond the original tumor. The addition of radiation and chemotherapy can increase remission rates, but there is no cure.

Recent research has explored the idea that cancer stem cells (CSC) play a role in the metastasis of mesothelioma tumors. Researchers at the University of Tokyo’s Division of Clinical Immunology transferred malignant mesothelioma cells into mice and studied the cell lines as they developed. They found that many of the cells displayed markers for CSC such as SP, CD9, CD24, and CD26. The cells with those markers were also found to generate larger tumors. Though more studies need to be done into the role of stem cells in the development and spread of malignant mesothelioma, treatment that specifically targets CSC with these markers, rather than the whole tumor, may be more effective at stopping the spread of the cancer and preventing recurrences.

New methods of treatment are vital, since mesothelioma life expectancy is poor – the average expectancy is 9 to 12 months after diagnosis, and the five-year survival rate is only around 10%. An avenue of study that focuses on CSC may give hope to people who were unwittingly exposed to a toxic substance and are now suffering the dire consequences.


* Eric Stevenson is a health and safety advocate who resides in the Southeastern US

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