In celebration of the meeting of the International Mesothelioma Interest Group, or iMig 2012, we at Kazan, McClain, Satterley, Lyons, Greenwood & Oberman funded this year’s Young Investigator Awards, as we have done at each meeting since 2008. This is the second in a series discussing the promising work of one of the recipients.
Australia was once home to one of the world’s most thriving asbestos industries, which left behind a dubious legacy of health problems. Fortunately, a generation of scientists decided to respond to this legacy by establishing the Asbestos Diseases Research Institute (ADRI), located at the University of Sydney.
At iMig 2012, we had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Yuen Yee Cheng, who was happy to discuss her work on epigenetics and the suppression of malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM) tumors.
Silencing the disease
Cancer is a complex condition that is influenced by a wide number of variables, including lifestyle choices, genetics and pollution. When it comes to MPM, the main driving factor in the development of the disease is a history of asbestos exposure, which can cause pathological changes in the mesothelial cells of the lungs.
Healthy mesothelial cells contain an active gene known as ZIC1, which plays an important role in suppressing behavior that could lead to the development of tumors. Past studies have shown in gastric and colorectal cancer cells, ZIC1 was silenced. In order to determine if the same was true in MPM, Cheng and her team conducted a study that looked at cell and tumor samples.
Results showed that the activity of ZIC1 was hampered in 16 of 24 MPM tumor samples, leading to the production of microRNAs (a type of chemical messenger within a cell) that are associated with disease activity. However, stimulating the expression of ZIC1 reduced the levels of these abnormal microRNAs, which interfered with the tumor growth.
This is an important observation because it may inspire researchers to take a new approach toward treating MPM. This disease is not going away any time soon. In fact, the Environmental Working Group predicts that we may even see more cases of it popping up in years to come.
Thankfully, scientists at places like ADRI are up to the task of solving these problems – and we are happy to support their work.
“My ultimate aim is to find a cure for mesothelioma,” Cheng told us. “I would like to thank the ADRI and the Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia for their support. And I would sincerely like to thank the professional law corporation Kazan, McClain, Satterley, Lyons, Greenwood & Oberman for supporting the Young Investigator Award.”