MicroRNAs May Hold Key to Fighting Mesothelioma, According to Surviving Mesothelioma

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Australian scientists say altering the way cells express genes may give doctors a new way to combat malignant pleural mesothelioma.

Restoring miR-16 expression represents a novel therapeutic approach for malignant pleural mesothelioma.

In a study published in the Annals of Oncology and reported by Surviving Mesothelioma, researchers at the renowned Asbestos Diseases Research Institute in Sydney tested the role of microRNAs in mice with mesothelioma. MicroRNAs are tiny cell components responsible for the expression of a wide variety of genes, including genes that can help fight cancer.

When the Australian research team measured the levels of a family of microRNAs (miR) called 15/16 in mesothelioma cell lines and compared them to the levels of the same miRNAs in normal mesothelial cells, they found that the cancer cells had miR-15/16 levels that were 2 to 10 times lower than normal cells. The finding was consistent with previous research linking reduced miR 15/16 expression to other types of cancer.

Next, the researchers increased the levels of miR 15/16 in mesothelioma-bearing mice to measure the impact on the cancer. The mice were given injections of synthetic miR 15/16 “mimics” that were specially-designed to target cancer cells. The injections increased miR 15/16 expression and had a noticeable effect on mesothelioma tumors. “In xenograft-bearing nude mice, intravenous administration of miR-16 mimics packaged in minicells led to consistent and dose-dependent inhibition of malignant pleural mesothelioma tumor growth,” report the researchers. The downregulation appeared to have no negative impact on the normal mesothelial cells.

But the news gets even better. Not only did the treatment inhibit the growth of mesothelioma tumors, but it also appeared to make them more sensitive to the toxic effects of chemotherapy. The researchers report that mesothelioma cells were “sensitized” to pemetrexed and gemcitabine, two of the most popular first-line drugs used to treat the disease. “Restoring miR-16 expression represents a novel therapeutic approach for malignant pleural mesothelioma,” the authors conclude.

Australia is the site of some of the world’s most aggressive mesothelioma research. The country has one of the highest rates of this rare cancer in the world, a result of years of asbestos mining, use and importation. Australia has since instituted a complete asbestos ban.

The original report on miRNAs and mesothelioma appears in the Annals of Oncology. (Reid, G, et al, “Restoring expression of miR-16: a navel approach to therapy for malignant pleural mesothelioma”, October 22, 2013, Annals of Oncology, Epub ahead of print, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24148817)

For nearly ten years, Surviving Mesothelioma has brought readers the most important and ground-breaking news on the causes, diagnosis and treatment of mesothelioma. All Surviving Mesothelioma news is gathered and reported directly from the peer-reviewed medical literature. Written for patients and their loved ones, Surviving Mesothelioma news helps families make more informed decisions.

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Michael Ellis
Cancer Monthy
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