Researchers at the University of Western Australia have been trying to unlock the secrets of mesothelial cells and their multi-potency.
In an article prepared for the Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, the researchers report that cells in the mesothelium,—the layer of tissue that lines the body’s chest and abdominal cavities, heart and many internal organs— may hold great potential for use in repairing and possibly regenerating tissue elsewhere in the body.
The mesothelium gives its name to mesothelioma, a cancer linked to asbestos exposure that produces tumors in the lining of the lung, abdomen or heart. There are different types of mesothelioma. If the asbestos-related cancer originates in the lining of the lung, it is known as malignant pleural mesothelioma. If it starts in the abdomen, the disease is known as peritoneal mesothelioma.
It’s quite rare, but sometimes mesothelioma tumors may contain tissue similar to that found in cartilage or bone. In medical literature, there are more than 20 reported cases of malignant mesothelioma with tissue bone or cartilage formation. Why that occurs is a puzzle that researchers have been trying to understand.
The Australian researchers set out to see if they could coax mesothelial cells from humans and rats to transform in the lab into different types of cells that store fat and develop into connective tissue. They collected human mesothelial cells from patients undergoing heart surgery. They exposed the mesothelial cells to certain naturally occurring substances released by cells that stimulate other cells to grow and divide.
Over a period of several weeks, they reported observing small changes in the cells consistent with the formation of bone, also known as osteoblasts. In a separate set of experiments, they observed mesothelial cells undergoing changes consistent with development of cells that store fat.
The researchers said their research provides strong evidence that mesothelial cells retain the potential to develop into different types of cells. The research also shows a mechanism by which bone is formed in malignant mesothelioma tumors.
Scientists already have used mesothelial cells in certain engineering applications including the development of blood vessels and replacements for peripheral nerves. The multi-potency of mesothelial cells suggests greater application for the cells to be used to repair and replace tissue and possibly regenerate damaged and defective tissue.
Approximately, 2,500 to 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in the United States each year. The majority are malignant pleural mesothelioma. Mesothelioma symptoms typically occur decades after exposure to asbestos. Often the cancer has reached an advanced stage before doctors diagnose the condition as mesothelioma.