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Could Dying Mesothelioma Cells Make The Surviving Cells Fight Harder to Stay Alive?

Mesothelioma Xray

The goal of treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation, is to kill off mesothelioma cells to increase the survival for the patients. But researchers report they discovered dying cancer cells communicate to their surviving cells that can then alter their genetic makeup to fight back the drugs. Finding a way to block this cell-to-cell communication is now the target for development of a novel cancer treatment.

Researchers from The University of Alabama at Birmingham, Russia and South Korea looked closer at the status of cells in glioblastoma tumors to determine the relationship dying cells have with their neighboring active cancer cells. They found that cells undergoing apoptosis, or are dying, send signals to adjacent tumor cells that encourages them to become more aggressive and resist treatment, according to a June 21 press release from UAB announcing the findings.

Dying Cells Send Signals to Counterparts

The team used mouse models injected with a combination of apoptotic and “healthy” glioblastoma cells. When viewed in brain  scans, the combination showed “much more aggressive tumor growth” and were “more therapy-resistant” than either the “healthy” cancer cells or the dying cells alone.

The researchers determined the dying cells secrete apoptotic extracellular vesicles (apoEVs) that can alter the RNA of the recipient cells which promotes drug resistance and “aggressive migration” of the cancer cells.

“This mechanism thus becomes a possible target for new therapies to treat glioblastoma, a primary brain cancer, and the mechanism may apply to other cancer types as well,” the researchers determined.

Mesothelioma is a rare, aggressive cancer that leaves oncologists and patients with few treatment options. Typically the patients are treated with chemotherapy, that works temporarily, but the insidious cancer often develops a resistance to the therapy rendering it ineffective.

“Clinically, our data may provide the rationale to the molecular targeting of RNA splicing events or specific splicing factors for novel cancer therapies,” said Ichiro Nakano, M.D., Ph.D., academic neurosurgeon at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and leader of the international study. “This may lead to decreased acquisition of therapy resistance, as well as reduction in the migration of cancer cells.”

Although the researchers did not look at mesothelioma cell apoptosis, research into other aggressive, difficult-to-treat cancers can lead to insight into the asbestos-caused cancer. Nearly 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with some form of mesothelioma each year. Survival is often less than one year.

Read the full study in the June 21 issue of Cancer Cell.



  • June 21 issue of Cancer Cell
  • The University of Alabama at Birmingham
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