New research has shown that reducing the activity of one type of microRNA (miRNA) can slow down the growth of cancer cells and regulate proteins. With this information, scientists can work on finding new treatments that use miRNAs to prevent pleural mesothelioma from growing and spreading.
Mesothelioma Treatment Requires New Approaches
Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer caused by asbestos exposure. As of right now, the chances of surviving mesothelioma is quite low because this form of cancer is difficult to diagnose. This means patients are usually only diagnosed at an advanced stage, so treatment options are limited.
Moreover, as Professors Antonio Giordano and Luciano Mutti from the Sbarro Institute for Cancer Research and Molecular Medicine at Temple University and the Italian Group for Mesothelioma (GIMe), point out:
“Drugs with some activities in other tumors have utterly failed in [pleural mesothelioma], providing evidence we have to rethink what we have been doing so far and start over from a solid biological background.” — Researchers from the Italian Group for Mesothelioma
However, while other drugs have failed, research into miRNAs continues to provide hope for newer and more effective treatment methods.
What Are miRNAs and What Do They Have to Do with Cancer?
But what exactly are miRNAs? Ribonucleic acid (RNA) molecules are single-stranded chains of alternating phosphate and ribose units. These molecules live in a cell’s nucleus and cytoplasm, and they make the proteins human bodies need to function. They also regulate gene expression.
MiRNAs are RNA molecules. However, they are smaller than most other RNAs. Furthermore, miRNAs are non-coding, which means that they do not create proteins. Instead of making proteins, miRNAs bond with messenger RNAs (mRNAs) to prevent miRNAs from making proteins or to encourage cell division or degradation.
Past studies discovered that abnormal expression of miRNAs—that is if the body has too many or too few—helps tumors grow.
For example, some types of miRNAs suppress the genes that stop tumors. If the body has too many of this type of miRNA, then the mesothelioma can flourish. Other miRNAs can prevent cancer cells from growing and spreading. However, when a person has cancer, their body does not produce enough of those miRNAs.
MiRNAs and Targeted Therapy
In this current study, Giordano and the rest of the research team used a new method to discover important miRNAs. Because their novel approach they decided to focus on the miRNA miR-24-3p. Through their research, they found that this particular miRNA plays an essential role in mesothelioma’s progression.
The researchers also learned that if they can find a way to stop miR-24-3p or its related enzymes, they can slow down the growth of mesothelioma cells.
Improving Treatment and Diagnosis Methods
This research is vital for a couple of reasons. First of all, because the researchers discovered the role miR-24-3p plays in mesothelioma progression, new studies can look for ways to stop this miRNA. This will slow down the rate that the mesothelioma spreads, which can potentially lengthen remission times. And, if the cancer isn’t spreading as quickly, other treatments can be more effective.
Secondly, because the research team discovered a new way to figure out which miRNAs impact mesothelioma progression, they have made it easier for other researchers to identify different miRNAs that may be useful for:
- Diagnosing mesothelioma
- Stopping the growth of the disease
- Preventing drug resistance
- Predicting more favorable outcomes after treatments
All of which can lead to the development of newer more effective treatments, so that one day researchers will find a treatment that consistently and effectively works to treat pleural mesothelioma.