New research out of the United Kingdom shows that the use of artificial intelligence (AI) may be able to help patients who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma.
Mesothelioma is a rare, but especially aggressive form of cancer that can develop after an individual breathes in or otherwise ingests asbestos fibers. Once inside the body, these fibers can get lodged into the lining of a person’s lungs, abdomen, or heart, causing tumors to develop over time.
Due to the disease’s long latency period, which can range anywhere from 20-50 years, diagnoses are often delayed. As a result, many patients only learn about their mesothelioma after it has already advanced into its latter stages.
For years, cancer researchers around the globe have been looking for ways to improve the overall prognosis for mesothelioma patients, and to provide these patients with much-needed new therapies and treatment options.
Genomics researchers at the University of Leicester may have discovered a new way of helping mesothelioma patients survive longer — and their discovery involves the rapid and accurate computing powers of AI.
AI Enters the Fight Against Mesothelioma
Research by the Leicester Mesothelioma Research Programme used AI to analyze the DNA sequence of mesothelioma tumors. They found that mesothelioma tumors evolve similarly in each individual patient.
With a better understanding of the growth patterns of mesothelioma tumors, researchers can — in a sense — “predict” the level of aggressiveness with which the tumors will develop on a patient-to-patient basis. Such insight may allow doctors to better determine which forms of therapy may be best for treating the disease.
Professor Dean Fennell, who is Chair of Thoracic Medical Oncology at the University of Leicester and the Director of the Leicester Mesothelioma Research Programme, led the study, which was published in the academic journal Nature Communications this past March.
“It has long been appreciated that asbestos causes mesothelioma, however, how this occurs remains a mystery. Using AI to interrogate genomic ‘big data’, this initial work shows us that mesotheliomas follow ordered paths of mutations during development, and that these so-called trajectories predict not only how long a patient may survive, but also how to better treat the cancer.”
While the news is certainly not a cure for the devastating disease, it builds a new pathway forward for both mesothelioma researchers and the doctors who physically treat mesothelioma patients.
The Future in Mesothelioma Treatment
As medical research continues to advance alongside evolving technologies like AI, the future in the fight against cancer appears bright.
While some cancers have certainly proven to be more treatable than others, mesothelioma remains a rare and understudied cancer — one that unfortunately does not have the benefit of centuries’ worth of accumulated knowledge.
Any advance in the international community’s collective understanding of mesothelioma is significant. This new discovery by the Leicester Mesothelioma Research Programme offers hope.
Combined with recent positive findings from another British study, which showed an improved outcome in patients treated with the immunotherapy drug nivolumab (OpdivoⓇ), mesothelioma research and treatment is starting to see some truly exciting advances.
However, the greatest advance — a cure — is yet to come.