Newly Discovered Biological Marker Shows Promise for Mesothelioma Treatment

A recent study conducted by French researchers has shown promise for the treatment of malignant mesothelioma, the devastating cancer that is almost exclusively linked to asbestos exposure.
The study, which looked at 52 patients with epithelioid malignant mesothelioma, used immunohistochemistry—the study of cells that have been stained with chemicals in order to identify biological markers. Each patient’s cells were examined for the presence of a biological marker called neurotensin (NTS) and its cognate receptor (NTSR1). NTS, according to the study, has been “associated with a number of deleterious functions promoting cancer progression,” including such cancers as colon, prostate, pancreas and breast, in addition to mesothelioma. Neurotensin is made up of 13 amino acids; the cognate receptor provides the genetic coding for the receptor molecule that binds to it.

The researchers found that the immunohistochemistry showed NTS expression in 71.1 percent of the patients studied, and NTSR1 in 90.4 percent. Also expression of NTSR1 did not have any significant impact on survival rates or durations, the presence of NTS did negatively affect prognosis.

Patient with less than 10 percent NTS expression had a median survival rate of 29.8 months, where those with 10-50 percent had median survival rates of 18.4 months. The numbers dipped even lower for those about the 50 percent mark of NTS expression, with median survival of 11 months.

Other evidence garnered by the researchers showed that suppression of NTS in mesothelioma patients could reduce the spread of the cancer. This may form the basis for development of specifically targeted drugs to treat this deadly disease, which is diagnosed in some 2,000 to 3,000 new patients each year.

Currently, mesothelioma may be treated with chemotherapy, including a promising combination of the drugs Alimta and cisplatin. Yet many late-stage mesothelioma sufferers find the side effects of chemotherapy or radiation to be too taxing in their already weakened condition, and opt instead to pursue only pain management techniques. Surgery is rarely an option for mesothelioma patients, since the cancer tends not to be diagnosed until Stage III or Stage IV.