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Malignant mesothelioma is a cancer that takes years to make itself known, but once it is detected it is particularly deadly, spreading aggressively throughout the body and making effective treatment nearly impossible. But a recent discovery by a researcher from Johns Hopkins has identified the biochemical mechanism that spurs cancerous cells to break off and do what is known as metastasizing – spreading to other areas of the body – and that discovery may hold the key to finding more effective treatment options.

According to a report published in The Baltimore Sun, Hasini Jayatilaka has been interested in the ways that cancer cells break off and spread since she was just a sophomore studying at Johns Hopkins University. Now she and a team of scientists have not only identified what makes cells break off and spread, but also that two already existing drugs that have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration may actually slow down the process of cancer spreading throughout the body – including malignant mesothelioma.

Jayatilaka is now a PhD with a degree in chemical and bimolecular engineering. Speaking of her discovery, which was published in the journal Nature Communications, she says, “There are really no therapeutics out there right now that directly target the spread of cancer. So what we came up with through our studies was this drug cocktail that could potentially inhibit the spread of cancer.”

In most cases (including mesothelioma) cancer treatment has focused on the main cancerous tumor, either through surgical removal, shrinking it through radiation therapy, or killing its cells with chemotherapy. By opting instead to slow metastasis, Jayatilaka’s group believes that more patients will be able to survive. As senior author Denis Wirtz, Johns Hopkins’ vice provost for research and director of its Physical Sciences-Oncology Center says, “It’s not this primary tumor that’s going to kill you typically.”

The researchers believe that when cancer cells become too dense, they release two proteins – Interleukin 6 and Interleukin 8. The proteins serve as a signal that the cancer cannot continue to sustain itself amidst the crowded area and that it is time to move off to other parts of the body and start a new colony. What is particularly exciting about this discovery is that there are two drugs that have already been found to block Interleukin receptors. By using them together, they found that they were able to slow metastasis, though not to stop it completely. It is their hope that by adding a third drug the effect will be more complete.

People diagnosed with mesothelioma derive hope from the great strides being made in cancer research. If you would like information about research or other resources that may be available to you, contact the Patient Advocates at Mesothelioma.net. We are dedicated to providing assistance to those affected by this challenging disease.

Author: Terri Oppenheimer

Terri Oppenheimer is an independent writer, editor, and proofreader. She graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in English. Her dreams of a writing career were diverted by a need to pay her bills. She spent a few years providing the copy for a major retailer, then landed a lucrative career in advertising sales. With college bills for all three of her kids paid, she left corporate America for a return to her original goal of writing. She specializes in providing content for websites and finds tremendous enjoyment in the things she learns while doing her research. Her specific areas of interest include health and fitness, medical research, and the law.

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