The mesothelioma cells inside you are taking over. This is because your innate immune system prefers them over healthy neighboring cells in the life-or-death competition for available growth nutrients.
The fact that this competition occurs at all, and that your immune system is involved, means that there is the possibility to detect tumors ever earlier than is now possible.
That’s important because a key to mesothelioma survival — living for years rather than months — is early detection. The earlier they discover you have mesothelioma, the earlier in the game doctors can treat you.
According to new research published in the journal Science, the mesothelioma cells are winning the contest for nutrients because they’re fitter than the healthy cells nearby.
In other words, the mesothelioma cells are crowding out the healthy cells in a Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest competition.
More precisely, the superior fitness of the mesothelioma cells convinces the innate immune system to deactivate the healthy neighbors and make them disappear.
This frees up growth resources, which the then unopposed mesothelioma cells grab and use for their own needs.
The researchers believe that the opposite would occur if the healthy neighbors were fitter than the mesothelioma cells.
In that scenario, the innate immune system would shut down the mesothelioma cells and allow the surviving healthy cells to take possession of the freed-up growth resources.
Innate Immune System Helps Mesothelioma Grow
Using a fruit fly as the model, molecular biologists from the University of Zurich and Columbia University demonstrated the role played by the innate immune system in this competition.
The innate immune system regulates the contest between fit and unfit cells by rigging the game in favor of the fit cells.
The researchers put it this way: “The innate immune system condemns weak cells to their death.” It accomplishes this by triggering the mechanism within a cell that causes a cell to die.
The innate immune system observes the competition between the cells. When it detects a fight for resources between a strong and a weak cell, the innate immune system lets loose a signaling protein.
The signaling protein tells the weaker cell to press its self-destruct button. The researchers say that the weaker cell does exactly what it’s told.
In this way, the fitter cells are able to flourish.
Mesothelioma Cells Win
The researchers emphasize that the innate immune systems steps in like this only when there is an imbalance in the degree of cellular fitness.
If the competing cells are equally fit, the innate immune system plays no favorites until one of the contestants succeeds in sufficiently weakening the other.
Cancer cells are often fitter than the healthier cells making up the tissue being invaded. Mesothelioma cells are among the hardiest and most resilient of all. That makes them exceptionally tough competitors.
One thing the researchers couldn’t determine in their investigation is whether the self-destruct signaling protein that the immune system summons is housed in the stronger or weaker competitor.
The answer will likely come with further research.
So will the answer to whether your innate immune system’s operations in this competition can serve as an early warning diagnostic aid.