Latest Mesothelioma Research Findings Should Prompt Novel Treatment

Dr. Haining Yang at the University of Hawaii Cancer Center

A novel therapeutic approach to treating malignant mesothelioma may be arriving soon after an international research team recently identified HMGB1 as the protein that sparks the proliferation and survival of these cancer cells.

The team was led by Haining Yang, PhD at the University of Hawaii Cancer Center, and findings were first reported in the on-line edition of Cancer Research.

According to the research, mesothelioma cells secreted HMGB1 at much higher levels than in healthy individuals, and that the growth of cells (in vitro) was inhibited by treatment with antibodies directed against HMGB1.

“The next step is to translate this discovery into actual treatments for patients,” Yang said in a news release from the university. “We’re excited about the discovery.”

The discovery outlines the process that causes the growth of asbestos cancer. It is expected to offer scientists an opportunity to develop more protein-specific therapies to treat it.

It also should help in identifying new biomarkers that could lead to earlier detection, which is key in successful treatment of most cancers. A diagnosis of mesothelioma, a cancer caused almost exclusively by an exposure to asbestos fibers, normally comes with a poor prognosis. It is diagnosed usually in late stages and has proven resistant to most treatment options.

“Our findings indicate that MM cells rely on HMGB1, and they offer a preclinical proof of principle that antibody-mediated ablation of HMBG1 is sufficient to elicit therapeutic activity,” Yang wrote in the report.

Yang has been instrumental in several other recent discoveries with mesothelioma, including the identification of BAP1, the gene that causes the cancer. Yang’s research focus has been on identifying the mechanisms responsible for asbestos carcinogenesis. One of her goals has been developing specific approaches for treatment and early detection of the cancer.

The University of Hawaii has been a leader in the fight against mesothelioma, sparked by Cancer Center director Michele Carbone, whose work around the world has brought considerable attention to the university.

The recent study was an international effort that included researchers from the John A. Burns School of Medicine at UH Manoa, the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, the San Raffaele University and Research Institutes in Milan, Italy, and the New York University School of Medicine.


Tim Povtak is an award-winning writer with more than 30 years of reporting national and international news. His most recent experience is in researching and writing about asbestos litigation issues and asbestos-related conditions like mesothelioma. If you have a story idea for Tim, please email him at tpovtak@asbestos.com

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