Diagnosing and managing malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM) may soon be performed using a simple blood test, a new study suggests, showing that measuring the levels of specific microRNAs in the blood can discriminate healthy people from those who were exposed to asbestos or from MPM patients.
The study, “Circulating microRNAs found dysregulated in ex-exposed asbestos workers and pleural mesothelioma patients as potential new biomarkers,” was published in Oncotarget. It was conducted at the School of Medicine at the University of Ferrara in Italy.
Considering the long latency periods from asbestos exposure to the development of MPM, physicians need biomarkers that accurately predict which patients will develop the disease, allowing for early diagnosis and better management of such patients. Recently, microRNAs have been proposed as new biomarkers for MPM patients.
microRNAs are small RNA molecules that can be found inside our cells or in the blood and can act by inhibiting the production of certain proteins. “Many investigations indicate that miRNAs may be used as diagnostic biomarkers for cancers, including MPM and potential new targets for innovative therapeutic approaches,” the team wrote.
In a previous study, the research team had already identified 22 microRNAs that were differentially expressed in MPM cells compared to normal mesothelial cells. Now, they sought to examine whether microRNAs in the blood serum could distinguish healthy people from MPM patients, or whether they could predict which formerly exposed asbestos workers would develop the disease.
They examined the levels of circulating microRNAs in 10 MPM patients, 10 workers who were formerly exposed to asbestos fibers (WEA), and an equal number of healthy subjects.
Results revealed that three microRNAs: miR-197-3p, miR-1281, and miR 32-3p, were significantly increased in MPM samples compared to those of healthy individuals. Two of those microRNAs, miR-197-3p and miR-32-3p, could be used to distinguish MPM patients from formerly exposed workers, as the expression of these molecules was higher in MPM patients than in WEA subjects. However, miR-1281 was elevated in both MPM patients and WEA subjects compared to healthy controls.
The results suggest that these three miRNAs should be further studied as potentially useful biomarkers for MPM. In addition, the researchers suggest that, since microRNAs can modify the production of certain proteins, some of them involved in tumor progression may be possible targets for therapeutic approaches.