Survival rates for diffuse mesothelioma are notoriously low with the median survival ranging between 12 to 22 months. A contributing factor to treatment being ineffective is that the disease if often in the advanced stages by the time it is noticed and diagnosed. Early detection may be a key factor in fighting this illness effectively, but the long latency period between initial exposure to asbestos and the time of diagnosis, which can be decades, makes this difficult.
Scientists and researchers are continually looking for ways to be able to distinguish biomarkers to be able to better differentiate between cancer cells and non-cancer cells. Molecule CD47, a cell protein that plays an important role in immune cell activation, may help with this distinction.
High expression of CD47 has been found in various cancers such as myeloma and ovarian cancer, which prompted scientists to investigate CD47 expression on mesothelial cells. CD47 inhibits phagocytosis, which is a process in which living cells (phagocytes) overtake or ingest other cells. It acts as a defensive reaction against foreign agents entering the body. This means that high amounts of CD47 prevent healthy cells from destroying cancer cells, which allows the cancer to spread more easily.
A study published in Oncoimmunology notes the potential this research could have on survival rates in mesothelioma. Not only through being able to detect mesothelioma faster, but also being able to develop personalized treatments that focus on inhibiting CD47 expression. An immunotherapy treatment could block CD47, allowing for white blood cells to increase and triggering a more active immune response.
Treatment and diagnosis continue to be a struggle for those suffering from mesothelioma, and in some instances, the two go hand-in-hand. Specific biomarkers that determine if a patient has mesothelioma and what type, determines the course of treatment that could potentially be the most effective; whether it be chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, or immunotherapy.
Schurch, CM et. al, “The ‘Don’t Eat Me’ signal CD47 is a Novel Diagnostic Biomarker and Potential Therapeutic Target for Diffuse Mesothelioma,” Oncoimmunology (2017 September). [Link]