No one wants to receive a mesothelioma diagnosis. However, a mesothelioma diagnosis today isn’t as bad as it would have been several years back. Researchers haven’t yet found a cure, but their work has led to incremental improvements. As a result, there are now more treatment options, and the survival rate is better than it was just a few years back.
That said, there is still much that we don’t yet know. Researchers have only recently begun to understand the impact of certain key proteins, and they are still uncovering new surprises. These include the discovery that many mesothelioma tumors feature a protein that typically turns off after we grow past the embryonic state.
The mystery of the Hand2 protein
Researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus have started asking why many mesothelioma tumors feature the Hand2 protein. As the researchers noted, the Hand2 protein helps guide genes at the beginning of life. It usually goes dormant after the embryonic stage. The reason that it features in some mesothelioma tumors is a mystery. So is the fact that it doesn’t appear in all mesothelioma tumors.
Since their discovery, the researchers started looking at the Hand2 protein in zebrafish. They learned the protein played a role in the formation of the mesothelium—the thin, protective layer of tissue that surrounds the body’s organs.
The researchers don’t believe the Hand2 protein causes the mesothelioma tumors to grow. Rather, they know that mesothelioma tumors grow after asbestos fibers cause sustained inflammation. This inflammation causes the release of high-mobility group box protein-1 (HMGB1) into the spaces between mesothelial cells. In turn, HMGB1 appears to trigger a vicious cycle, perpetuating the inflammation and leading, eventually, to mutations in the mesothelial cells.
The presence of the Hand2 protein presents a different mystery. The researchers wonder if its presence may signal why some tumors are harder to treat than others. By exploring the mechanisms that cause Hand2 to reactivate, the researchers hope to find better ways to tailor their treatments.
Every little bit matters
For researchers, and for those dealing with mesothelioma, every new discovery counts. There’s new hope in these discoveries, even if the scientists don’t understand exactly what they mean at first.
This is because modern medicine often allows doctors to tailor treatments to target specific proteins or cellular processes. The better scientists understand the processes involved in mesothelioma, the better they can find ways to interrupt the harmful ones and promote the healthy ones. This work isn’t often fast, but it helps. In recent years, we’ve seen numerous studies and new treatments. Researchers continue to work on new clinical trials. One step at a time, researchers have been pushing back against mesothelioma.