It's long been suspected that a person's genetics play a role in determining susceptibility to the development of mesothelioma following exposure to asbestos fibers. The suspicion caused the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Institutes of Health (NIH) to fund research that would discover this genetic link. As of August, 2011, the specific gene mutation was not only found, but identified to also trigger other types of cancer.
The culprit is the gene, BAP1. Not a very creative name, is it? Why not name genes after Greek gods and goddesses rather than assigning them boring codes made up of capital letters and numbers? The former would better match the mystical powers genes have to determine so much about a person from appearance to temperament to health and beyond. Anyway, the research showed that people with a mutation on the BAP1 gene are more susceptible to developing both mesothelioma cancer as well as melanoma cancer of the eye.
The upshot is that people who are exposed to asbestos are far more likely to develop mesothelioma if they have this mutation to BAP1. The research was funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health, and led by scientists at the University of Hawaii Cancer Center in Honolulu, and Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. The study results were published in Nature Genetics and reported the outcome of tests within two U.S. families with a high incidence of mesothelioma and other cancers linked with BAP1 mutations.
The study's co-leader,Dr. Joseph Testa, notes that it appears likely that other genes, in addition to BAP1, will be found to be associated with elevated risk of mesothelioma." In the study, every person in the two families who developed mesothelioma or melanoma of the eye did have mutations of the BAP1 gene. The research team went on to look at 26 additional people diagnosed with mesothelioma but with no family history of the disease and found that 25 percent of them also had the BAP1 mutations.
Dr. Michele Carbone, study co-leader and director of the University of Hawaii Cancer Center, says of the results: "Identifying people at greatest risk for developing mesothelioma, especially those exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos worldwide, is a task made easier by virtue of this discovery."
This concludes our series on the newest science concerning mesothelioma. These findings are exciting and inspiring of hope that future diagnostic and treatment practices will help people with mesothelioma live longer, healthier lives. Hope is the message we choose to focus on this week following National Mesothelioma Awareness Week.