Nobody knows why malignant mesothelioma tumors form in some who have been exposed to asbestos and not in others, or why the condition takes such a long time to make itself known. Researchers around the world are working hard to solve this mystery, and now scientists in Japan believe that they have identified a major factor in how the rare and deadly form of cancer develops.
According to a report in the “International Journal of Oncology,” scientists from the Kawasaki Medical School and Okayama University in Okayama believe that asbestos has a direct impact on the body’s regulatory T-cells, suppressing their ability to attack and fight off cancer cells when they are in the earliest stage of their development.
The researchers set out to understand what makes the healthy cells that make up the mesothelial lining of the body’s organs convert into tumors, and what distinguishes those whose cells undergo this transformation from those whose do not. They posited that the asbestos fibers that are inhaled or ingested by mesothelioma victims have a transformative effect on the body’s immune reaction.
To test this hypothesis, they analyzed the makeup of blood samples from patients who have been diagnosed with asbestos-related conditions. They also tested blood samples from volunteers who were deemed healthy. The immune cells were removed from both blood cells for further analysis.
What the researchers found was that those who were healthy had a much higher level of activity in “natural killer cells” then was true of those who had a history of asbestos-related diseases. Those with asbestos exposure also showed a markedly lower level of production of T-cells.
Both the killer cells and the ability to produce more effectively play a large protective role, while those whose responses and productivity are suppressed are clearly more at risk and more vulnerable to malignancies. The scientists also exposed human T-cells directly to asbestos fibers and found that the result was a significant reduction in the factor that regulates the life of these import players in the human immune system.
Summarizing their findings, Dr. Suni Lee writes, “The overall findings indicate that anti tumor immunity in asbestos-exposed individuals may be reduced through changes in the function and volume of regulatory T-cells.”
The search for understanding how mesothelioma develops is just one step to finding a cure for this rare and deadly disease. For those who are dealing with mesothelioma on a regular basis, the tragedy of the condition is that it was preventable and that it was caused by the negligence of the asbestos companies.