Cancer Researchers See Iron as Potential Path to Mesothelioma Cell Death

“Death by iron” may sound like a line out of the show Game of Thrones, but according to cell biologist Xuejun Jiang of the Sloan Kettering Institute, it may actually be the key to preventing the formation of malignant mesothelioma tumors, and even to killing metastatic mesothelioma cells. Dr. Jiang and his colleagues have been investigating ferroptosis, a condition in which iron links to a cell’s use of oxygen and causes the cell to die.

Approach makes use of mesothelioma cell vulnerability

Though ferroptosis has been linked to fatal heart disease, Dr. Jiang and his colleagues are working to see whether it can be harnessed in a way that would kill mesothelioma and other types of cancers. The team has found that when cancer cells become metastatic they become more vulnerable to ferroptosis. “The idea is that if you can induce ferroptosis in a controlled manner, it might be a great way to treat cancer.”Writing in the journal Nature, the researchers describe the way that cells communicate with one another when they come into contact, and how malignant mesothelioma cells contain mutations that make them lose this ability to communicate. When a cell can no longer receive certain signals called cadherins from neighboring cells, they stop suppressing a protein called YAP and become more vulnerable to ferroptosis. This may provide a new approach for cancer specialists, who believe that they can trigger ferroptosis and disable the cancer cells. 

Mesothelioma is particularly sensitive to ferroptosis

Many malignant mesothelioma cells contain a mutation in a protein called Merlin. When Merlin is working properly, it signals cells to fight ferroptosis, but where the mutation is present the signal chain is interrupted. “Mutations in Merlin and other tumor suppressor proteins in this signaling process usually make cancer cells more malignant and harder to treat,” Dr. Jiang says. “But on the other hand, these events also make cancer cells more susceptible to ferroptosis, which could be their Achilles’ heel.” The next step is to identify therapies that can induce ferroptosis.

As scientists work towards finding innovative therapies for the treatment of mesothelioma, those who have been diagnosed with the disease need access to information and support. The Patient Advocates at can provide you with the resources you need. Call us today at 1-800-692-8608.

Terri Heimann Oppenheimer

Terri Oppenheimer

Terri Heimann Oppenheimer is the head writer of our news blog. She graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in English. Terri believes that knowledge is power and she is committed to sharing news about the impact of mesothelioma, the latest research and medical breakthroughs, and victims’ stories.

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