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New study may offer hope for mesothelioma prevention

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That's the saying, but what can you do when it's too late to take most preventative measures?

That's frequently the question mesothelioma victims must face. Every year, doctors diagnose roughly 3,000 Americans with mesothelioma. However, because mesothelioma is notoriously difficult to diagnose, those diagnoses often come too late for the most aggressive and effective treatments. And that's why the findings of a recent study may offer new hope for those most at risk.

Studying the pathways to close the gate

While there’s currently no magic cure for mesothelioma, researchers keep looking for new ways to fight the cancer. Their studies take many forms, and many focus on the pathways behind the disease. Scientists hope that if they learn how latent asbestos triggers cancer cells' formation, they might better slow, prevent or combat the disease.

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America recently published one of these pathway studies. The work is early, but it suggests there may be a way for high-risk individuals to combat their histories of asbestos exposure.

At a high level, the study shows:

  • While the pathways remain a mystery, scientists know asbestos can damage and transform human mesothelial (HM) cells
  • These cells release a protein called high mobility group box 1 (HMBGB1)
  • The release of HMBGB1 triggers a process called autophagy, by which the body attacks damaged cells to clean itself out
  • The autophagy triggered by HMBGB1 appears to play a critical role in reducing the number of healthy mesothelial cells, thereby increasing the ratio of damaged or cancerous cells
  • These cancerous cells can then multiply and cause mesothelioma
  • In studies with mice, two FDA-approved drugs appeared to combat the harmful autophagy

In other words, this study suggests that the cancer cells are creating a protein that convinces your body to eat the healthy cells. And the cancer cells get to fill the vacuum. However, two drugs appeared to fight against this process: chloroquine and the antidepressant desmethylclomipramine.

Who might benefit?

If future research upholds these findings, it could mean the people most likely to get mesothelioma might fight the disease before they ever develop it. That’s good news for construction workers, welders, electricians, auto mechanics, military veterans and anyone else who has worked in the industries most at-risk for asbestos exposure.

Unfortunately for these people, the study doesn’t offer an immediate remedy. For now, their best bet may still be to inform their doctors of their histories of asbestos exposure. That information can help doctors diagnose the disease early and allow them to pursue the most aggressive treatments available.

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