From the blog

Understanding Asbestos Exposure and Mesothelioma

Published: March 26, 2018

Exposure to asbestos does not always mean that the individual exposed will develop an asbestos-caused disease or cancer. However, there is no safe level of asbestos exposure, and if you have encountered friable asbestos fibers unprotected, you are at risk of developing lung cancer, asbestosis, or mesothelioma.

While we know today that asbestos exposure is the sole caused of malignant mesothelioma, scientists and researchers continue to struggle with how the disease initially develops and spreads decades after initial exposure. Not being able to fully understand the disease from inception has hindered effective treatment. There are many treatment options available for those suffering from mesothelioma, but effectiveness is very much case by case.

A recent study published in the FASEB Journal from researchers at the University of Vermont edge closer to finding answers on just how exactly asbestos fibers cause healthy cells to turn into mesothelioma tumors. This study focused on exosomes, cell-derived vesicles that can be responsible for intercellular signaling, blood clotting, and waste control. Scientists hypothesized that once epithelial and white blood cells are exposed to asbestos, they secrete these exosomes that alter the gene expression of mesothelial cells .Epithelial cells in the lungs and white blood cells (macrophages) were investigated because that is where asbestos fibers travel first when asbestos fibers are inhaled.

Researchers and scientists found their hypothesis to be correct, and when epithelial cells BEAS2B and macrophages THP-1 were exposed to asbestos, exosomes with an abundance of certain proteins were produced. When those high protein exosomes were introduced to mesothelial cells, there was a change in gene expression.

Presently, there are no biomarkers to measure asbestos exposure before disease development; however, this latest development could allow scientists to now explore and identify certain biomarkers for mesothelioma because exosomes with specific protein profiles may determine likelihood that asbestos exposure could develop into cancer.

Detecting mesothelioma in its early stages can be a patient’s best chance for survival not only because treatment may be more effective, but because the treatment is able to better target the illness specific to the patient. Certain biomarkers can often tell doctors if a patient is at an increased risk for developing an illness, but with mesothelioma, it has been difficult to pin-point one exact biomarker for all cases. However, new findings and research for asbestos- caused illnesses are continually being explored as our technology and understanding of this advances.



Munson, P, et al, “Exosomes from asbestos-exposed cells modulate gene expression in mesothelial cells”, FASEB Journal (March 19, 2918) [Link]

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