New Gene Sequencer is Poised to Revolutionize Mesothelioma Research
In the U.S., mesothelioma has led to countless deaths, and currently, little can be done about it. However, the Thoracic Oncology Program at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) has ushered in a new era in mesothelioma research by acquiring a state-of-the-art genetic sequencing tool.
Called the 5500 SOLiD Sequencer, the device offers researchers the ability to fully sequence malignant lung cell genomes and analyze gene expression in mesothelioma tissue, often in as few as 24 hours.
The practical applications of such a device put it as the forefront of the development of potential mesothelioma treatments.
Mesothelioma is a universally fatal disease, for now
Each year, roughly 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society. The vast majority of cases can be attributed to asbestos exposure, even if contact with the mineral was relatively brief and occurred decades ago.
The average survival time beyond diagnosis of mesothelioma is just 15 months, the National Cancer Institute states. Annually, approximately 10,000 deaths can be attributed to asbestosis, mesothelioma and other asbestos-related conditions, according to the Environmental Working Group.
However, the origins of mesothelioma go beyond mere exposure to toxic asbestos dust. Scientists have found that cell-level changes associated with the substance appear to engender – or at least, increase the risk for – dangerous genetic mutations. It is this damage to the nucleic acids that makes mesothelioma so virulent and, following diagnosis, so fast-growing.
How is the UCSF team putting the 5500 SOLiD Sequencer to work?
The Thoracic Oncology Program has collected tissue samples from more than 160 patients with mesothelioma. These snap-frozen specimens are matched samples, meaning each individual donated both healthy lung tissue and cells afflicted with malignant mesothelioma.
Unlike other teams that hew to broad, inflexible therapeutic experimentation, the UCSF group will use the 5500 SOLiD Sequencer to develop treatments that are tailored to a mesothelioma patient’s specific genetic tumor line.
To do so, the team plans to use the new device to sequence the full genetic makeup of mesothelioma cell lines. By comparing the resulting data to normal cell samples, researchers will have the chance to locate previously undiscovered genetic mutations, potentially leading to unique treatments for the deadly disease.
With the 5500, the UCSF team members expect to be able to fully sequence even the most complex tumor cell lines in less than a week. The group expressed its enthusiasm for the innovative, individualized systems-biology approach.