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Finding Out How Asbestos Causes Mesothelioma

Published: May 26, 2023

Finding Out How Asbestos Causes Mesothelioma

Researchers are finding out why it takes a long time for mesothelioma to develop. A study in the Journal of Environmental Research found that the immune system sensing and interacting with particles changes how mesothelioma develops in the body. Researchers found that the main reason mesothelioma is caused by asbestos is the geometry of fibers rather than its mineral composition. The immune system of a person is activated when exposed to the right shape and size of a particle, leading to mesothelioma.

Long and thin asbestos fibers are particularly dangerous because they gain the attention of the immune system. More immune cells go towards the asbestos fibers, causing areas that need immune cells to be neglected. Tissue that needs to be healed with the immune system then does not get the attention it needs, stopping healing from taking place. The immune system is essentially overwhelmed and does not go where it needs to go.

The physical characteristics of particles change how immune system cells act in the body over time. This could be the reason that it takes 30 to 40 years to develop mesothelioma once exposed to asbestos. Immune system changes could also be why people who are immunocompromised develop mesothelioma without exposure to asbestos. The immune system can also be used to help fight mesothelioma. A treatment was approved in 2020 by the Food and Drug Administration that utilizes the immune system to identify and attack cancer cells.

While conducting a different study at the University of Maryland, the same researchers looked at the size of mineral particles and their role in the cause of mesothelioma. They found that larger and longer particles are harder to remove from the lungs. More blood cells are needed for larger particles, which then hijacks the immune system. More research is needed, but researchers are confident that this research will help doctors and others understand why minerals like asbestos cause mesothelioma. It will take a team of geologists, chemists, physicists, and bioscientists to help find how mesothelioma and other cancers caused by toxic substances are started in the body.

Since there is no cure for mesothelioma, more research needs to be done to help researchers understand the cancer and how it starts in the body. This research is crucial for helping patients live longer and better lives. If doctors know how a cancer starts and spreads, they can stop these processes from even starting, therefore preventing people from contracting mesothelioma and other asbestos caused cancers.

Georgia Jiang, “UMD-led Study Sheds Light on How Incurable Form of Cancer Develops” University of Maryland (May 10, 2023). [Link]
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