A mesothelioma specialist would give anything for a highly accurate diagnostic tool, one that leaves no doubt about the condition it detects — and that tells how much time remains before the cancer takes its toll.
Such a tool may be just around the corner, if findings by researchers from Copenhagen University in Denmark prove out.
One problem for doctors trying to diagnose mesothelioma has been that the malignant form of the disease can be difficult to distinguish from a proliferation of nonmalignant reactive mesothelial cells.
Nonmalignant reactive mesothelial cells show up as an immune-system response to an infection or inflammation. They can be caused by anything ranging from bacteria and viruses to trauma or even mesothelioma itself.
Quick Mesothelioma Diagnosis Is Critical
The supremely well-trained medical eye can tell malignant mesothelioma cells apart from these nonmalignant ones, but not always with certainty — at least not at first glance.
To arrive at a reliable diagnosis, doctors must rely on various time-consuming methods of distinguishing between malignant and nonmalignant cells.
Unfortunately, treatment can’t begin until doctors are sure of what’s going on inside the patient. But if it’s actually malignant mesothelioma that’s taking hold, then delaying treatment can allow this fast-growing cancer to get the upper hand.
So, when treatment does at last begin, it may be less effective than if it could have been had it started sooner.
Examining 750 Biomarkers
Biomarkers are biological molecules produced as a result of both normal and abnormal cell activity. Each molecule possesses a unique signature that reveals the type of cell it came from. Biomarkers can be obtained from blood, urine or tissue samples.
In cancer medicine, biomarkers are used to help diagnose the disease, predict growth rate, and forecast whether and to what extent treatment will be effective.
One type of cancer biomarker is known as a microRNA — abbreviated as miRNA.
The Copenhagen University researchers describe miRNAs as mechanisms that control protein synthesis within cells. The researchers contend that scientists can tell a lot from the right miRNAs.
With that in mind, the researchers evaluated nearly 750 microRNAs. They did this in hope of finding those that would offer the clearest signature of malignant mesothelioma and reactive mesothelial cell proliferation.
Out of those examined, the researchers identified just four that appeared to fill the bill. This quartet consists of biomarkers miRNA-126, miRNA-143, miRNA-145 and miRNA-652.
Diagnostic Accuracy Is Essential
The International Mesothelioma Interest Group recommends mesothelioma diagnostic tests carry an accuracy rating of no less than 80 percent.
These four miRNAs as test agents boast 94 percent accuracy, according to the researchers.
And there is the possibility the accuracy rating could go higher if the researchers are right about their idea of pairing miRNA analysis with immunohistochemical testing.
The researchers indicated they will conduct further investigations to see how well their ideas hold up and begin to attempt to translate their findings into a viable differentiation-determining product.
The research findings were published in the Journal of Molecular Diagnostics.