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Using MicroRNA as a Biomarker to Diagnose Mesothelioma

Published: February 17, 2023

The early diagnosis and treatment of mesothelioma is critical for extending survival in patients. Researchers in Italy may have found a helpful biomarker to catch mesothelioma earlier, up to five years before a clinical diagnosis. This is helpful because once mesothelioma is diagnosed, it is hard to treat due to its aggressive and quick spreading nature. If a biomarker that detects mesothelioma quickly is found, a noninvasive test could help doctors start treatment when it would be most effective. The typical diagnosis process involves surgery, so people with mesothelioma might not be able to undergo the procedure, preventing them from receiving a proper diagnosis. With biomarker testing, patients could start treatment earlier and not have to undergo invasive methods for a diagnosis.

The biomarkers researchers were studying were microRNA in extracellular vesicles. Extracellular vesicles allow cells to communicate with each other. The vesicles contain microRNA,  which are non-coding bits of RNA. They are important for the gene expression process in all cells including cancer cells like mesothelioma. MicroRNA is currently being used as a biomarker for other cancers. The process allows doctors to search for cancer inexpensively without harmful surgical procedures on the body. Doctors could detect mesothelioma before patients are too sick and if patients are too sick, they could still be diagnosed with mesothelioma and could start treatment immediately. Biomarker testing is great news for mesothelioma patients because it could improve survival and quality of life. The study wanted to see if microRNA in preclinical mesothelioma cases could help pinpoint mesothelioma before a standard biopsy diagnosis.

The study at The European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition has 23 cancer centers involved from 10 different European countries. There were samples from 82 mesothelioma patients. The researchers sequenced microRNA profiles, allowing them to identify a 3-microRNA panel that could help determine mesothelioma. Researchers hope to use the microRNA panel with other biomarkers including proteins and DNA methylation to create a more accurate diagnosis of mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is a hard to treat and aggressive cancer mainly caused by asbestos exposure. Many mesothelioma sufferers worked with asbestos for many years. There is no cure for mesothelioma, so the best option for people with the cancer is to catch it early and to start treatment right away. Easy to distinguish biomarkers could help people who worked with asbestos to be diagnosed early, possibly extending their lives and improving their quality of life. This shows why cancer research is so important. Without research, people with many different types of cancer would not be living as long as they are now. More research needs to continue to improve the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

Elisabetta Casalone et al., “Serum Extracellular Vesicle-Derived microRNAs as Potential Biomarkers for Pleural Mesothelioma in a European Prospective Study” Cancers (January 2023). [Link]
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