Decades ago, a dangerous relationship between asbestos and mesothelioma was uncovered. Even with vast amounts of research devoted to this deadly disease, there is still much our medical professionals do not know. While the concentration and duration of exposure to asbestos are significant factors in determining who will ultimately suffer from mesothelioma, other factors can play a role.
One recently uncovered relationship was unexpected in many research communities – a genetic predisposition.
The Original Study
In 2011, a joint study by researchers at the University of Hawaii Cancer Center and Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, it was discovered that people who carry a mutation in a gene called BAP1 are susceptible to developing mesothelioma. In the study, two families with high incidences of mesothelioma in their history were evaluated. The researchers noted that every family member who had contracted mesothelioma also carried the BAP1 genetic mutation.
Following this correlation, the study expanded to investigate 26 more individuals diagnosed with mesothelioma. Twenty-five percent of those investigated also carried the BAP1 mutation.
The Impact Going Forward
While research has shown that the BAP1 mutation makes mesothelioma patients more resistant to chemotherapy, clinical trials are underway to investigate potential fixes. For example, the research team has found that the malignant mesothelioma cells are more responsive to chemotherapy when BAP1 levels are restored.
As a result of their findings, the team has developed a screening procedure that can potentially identify individuals with the BAP1 mutation. With the mutation identified, doctors can begin a course of treatment in the hopes of minimizing the patient’s risk of developing mesothelioma.
The study continues to be followed up and expanded. Most recently, a grant has been awarded to study an at-risk population in northern Nevada. The collaborative project, between the University of Hawaii Cancer Center and the Desert Research Institute, seeks to identify carriers of genetic mutations who may be more susceptible to developing cancer.