Cancer is a notoriously difficult disease to treat. Referred to as the “Emperor of all Maladies” in a recent best-seller, the history of cancer and the attempt to cure it is centuries old and tracks a series of misunderstandings and misconceptions that, once corrected, have led step-by-step to solutions to many of cancer’s mysteries.
Mesothelioma is a cancer that has proven particularly difficult to solve. The disease itself is are, only arising in about 3,500 patients per year in the United States, and this means that researchers have a very limited amount of opportunity for experimentation.
Beyond that, mesothelioma is usually in an advanced stage at the time of diagnosis. This means that healthcare professionals have only a short amount of time for their various protocols to work.
Since mesothelioma was first studied, scientists believed it to be a monoclonal type of cancer, meaning that the original mutation from which tumors arise have come from only a single cell. Most cancers arise from monoclonal cells, but researchers from the University of Hawaii wondered whether the rare form of cancer might actually be arising from mutations arising from multiple cells. This would certainly provide an explanation for why the cancer has proven to be so resistant to traditional cancer therapies, and so difficult to treat.
To check their theory that previous understandings of malignant mesothelioma have been based on the incorrect assumption that it is a monoclonal cancer, the group performed an experiment known as a HUMARA essay that follows the path of an inactivated chromosome.
The scientists took samples from fourteen different cancerous tumor biopsies that were derived from female mesothelioma patients and compared them to control groups of both men and women who were healthy, as well as from another cell line that had already been confirmed to be monoclonal.
By making comparisons between all of the cell groups they were able to confirm that the samples taken from the mesothelioma tumor biopsies were indeed polyclonal.
Speaking to the value and importance of the group’s findings, lead researcher Michael Carbone said, “Our study indicates that malignant mesothelioma is the result of polyclonal tumors, a finding that has implications for our understanding of the disease and the clinic.”
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“For example, patients that have their tumors removed at the early stages of this type of cancer will most often go on to have a recurrence in spite of the appearance of the eradication of malignant mesothelioma. This new insight helps us understand why that may be.”