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Hope for people with mesothelioma

New work funded by Worldwide Cancer Research highlights a potential new way to treat mesothelioma in the future.

Malignant pleural mesothelioma is a very rare type of cancer that affects the covering of the lung.  It is almost always associated with exposure to asbestos.  Although it affects the lungs, it is actually very different to lung cancer.

New research findings

Professor Stephano Biffo at the INGM (Istituto Nazionale Genetica Molecolare) in Milan, Italy is investigating the protein eIF6 and its role in cancer. With funding from Worldwide Cancer Research, he recently published findings in the journal Oncotarget that could potentially help people with mesothelioma in the future.

Could a drug currently being tested in patients work on mesothelioma?

In the paper he and his coauthors,among them Annarita Miluzio and Stefania Oliveto at INGM and Luciano Mutti, now at University of Salford, showed that mesothelioma lung cancer cells contain high levels of the active ‘phosphorylated’ form of eIF6.

Based on what they knew about how eIF6 became activated, they decided to test whether a drug called Enzastaurin could deactivate it.  Enzastaurin is currently in clinical trials for a range of other cancer types including prostate, lymphoma brain and bowel. Treating mesothelioma cells with Enzastaurin did indeed deactivate eIF6, by decreasing its phosphorylation.

This deactivation caused a reduction in the growth of the mesothelioma cells and also reduced cancer spread. Normally cancer cells metabolise food (glucose) very rapidly.  This is essential to keep up with the high demand for energy required for the rapid multiplication of cancer cells within a tumour.  The team deduced that this decrease in cell growth and reduction in cancer spread was caused by the Enzastaurin slowing down the cancer cells metabolism.

Since eIF6 phosphorylation is accompanied by its overexpression (increased activity of the eIF6 gene), it is not estimated that Enzastaurin alone will be beneficial in most patients. The team is now developing new strategies for eIF6 inhibition that will be first tested in mice.

What does all this mean?

Professor Biffo told us “We are sure that eIF6 plays an important role in mesothelioma lung cancer growth. Targeting it with drugs that are able to reduce eIF6 activity is a plausible way to treat these kinds of tumours in the future.  More effort will now be put into developing new compounds that could be potential drugs.”

We want to share more discoveries like Professor Biffo’s. To do this we are continuing to fund cancer research all over the world into all cancer types, no matter how rare, in our quest to stop lives being cut short by cancer. To help, please to text WORLDWIDE to 70004 to donate £10.

Further information

Image above shows a human tissue sample of malignant mesothelioma stained for eIF6 (brown). Arrows point at the nucleoli (the control centres of the cell) within tumour cells which are stained very dark brown due to the presence of lots of eIF6. Stromal (non-tumour tissue) has no eIF6 and so is not stained. Bottom right, scale bar, 20 microns.

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Science Communication Manager at Worldwide Cancer Research

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