Genetics and Malignant Mesothelioma

This is a guest post submitted by G. Garcia and written by Ben Stillwater. Ben Stillwater is a freelance writer for, an online resource on malignant mesothelioma and asbestos cancer.

There has been some research on the relationship between genetics and the development of malignant mesothelioma.  While there is no conclusive body of work, there is some compelling evidence that genetic defects may result in a higher risk for the development of malignant mesothelioma.  Research reported in Cancer Genetics and Cytogenetics in 2001 found evidence of chromosomal defects aligned through a family with a history of cancer that included at least one malignant mesothelioma patient.

Malignant Mesothelioma

Frightening Story of Malignant Mesothelioma

There is also an intriguing and frightening story of three villages in Turkey where fifty percent of the deaths are caused by malignant mesothelioma.  This is a relatively rare disease, diagnosed perhaps 3,000 times a year in the United States, a nation of 300 million people.  The ostensible cause is exposure and inhalation or ingestion of asbestos fibers.  In the villages located in the Cappadocian area of Turkey residents were uniformly exposed to a fibrous material called erionite, similar in structure to the six types of fiber categorized as asbestos.  Erionite occurs naturally in other areas of Turkey however and the occurrence of malignant mesothelioma is fractional compared to the villages of Tuzkoy, Karain, and Sarihidir.

A cancer study conducted by a collaboration of physicians and scientists from Turkey and the United States looked closely at this epidemic for evidence of genetic predisposition to mesothelioma cancer and reported their findings in the May, 2006 edition of Cancer Research.   They found no evidence of a different, more malicious type of erionite fiber among the villages with populations disposed to the development of malignant mesothelioma than in other Cappadocian villages.  Further, they found that occurrences of the disease were more frequent in some families than others.  And finally, epidemiological research showed that members of families with frequent malignant mesothelioma occurrence who married into families without the history of malignant mesothelioma carried an increased risk of the disease developing for their children and grandchildren.  The evidence of genetic predisposition is overwhelming.

Gene Therapy for Malignant Mesothelioma

One of the developments in cytogenetics with regard to malignant mesothelioma and other carcinomas has been the identification of chromosomal damage with the onset of tumor development.  Genetic evidence of damage has served as a source of markers for malignant growths.  Today the use of gene therapy applying targeted tumor-suppressant genes at malignant cells is in its nascent stage but promising a hopeful path to improved and effective treatment.  Gene therapy has been one of the sidelights in mesothelioma news as thoracic oncologists have cast about for more effective ways to target mesothelioma cells.  Chemotherapy combinations employing cisplatin, Pemetrexed and Onconase have been tested and retested in various combinations but the difficulty of targeting two distinct types of malignant cells remains.

Malignant mesothelioma is most commonly caused by an epithelial cell, but a sarcomatoid cell is a less frequent possibility and the presence of both occurs in up to twenty percent of all cases.  Experimental gene therapy models have been developed for both.  The use of gene therapy to slow the reproduction of epithelial cells has shown some effectiveness, while a method of genetic vaccination for sarcomatoid cells has been less conclusive.  A summation of recent gene therapy treatment for malignant mesothelioma appeared in the German medical journal Onkologie in 2008, detailing the clinical studies to that point.  Oncologists are accustomed to mixing chemotherapy drugs as a treatment option, mixing chemotherapy and radiotherapy for malignant mesothelioma treatment, and now are looking at incorporating gene therapy into treatment protocols for this lethal disease.

  1. Mesothelioma Clinical Trial

    Malignant mesothelioma is typically cause by the inhalation or ingestion of asbestos fibers. The fibers become lodged in the mesothelium as they are small enough to get in but cannot escape. Over a period of 15-50 years, the asbestos fibers scar and inflame the tissue, causing cellular damage. This can eventually lead to the development of mesothelioma.

  2. Mesothelioma

    Malignant Mesothelioma is just one form of the devastating disease. There are actually several types of mesothelioma usually caused by asbestos exposure.