Lactic Acid Could Aid Early Mesothelioma Diagnosis

Man flexing bicep

Another potential breakthrough in the quest for early detection of malignant mesothelioma may be on the horizon with some help from lactic acid … and you don’t need to suffer a muscle cramp to get results.

One of the biggest reasons that a mesothelioma diagnosis often still comes with a grim prognosis is that the cancer has spread before it is positively identified, eliminating surgery as a treatment option.

Specialists agree that finding a reliable way to diagnose mesothelioma earlier will be crucial to making future therapeutic advances.

A research team at The Centro de Estudios Cientificos in Chile has begun touting a potential non-invasive cancer diagnostic tool that uses a molecular sensor to detect lactic acid levels in individual cells. Could it be the next big step towards an early diagnosis?

Groundbreaking Research

Cancer cells normally produce the metabolic acid lactate at a much higher rate than normal cells, which could make this tool invaluable. The researchers in Chile found that most tumor cells produce lactate three to five times faster than non-tumor cells.

According to the press release issued earlier this month, no other measurement method can detect lactate non-invasively at the single cell level in real time. The research was done in collaboration with Wolf Frommer, director of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, Calif.

“The high rate of lactate production in the cancer cell is the hallmark of cancer metabolism,” Frommer said in the press release. “This result paves the way for understanding the nuances of cancer metabolism and for developing techniques for combating this scourge.”

The Frommer lab has been a pioneer in the use of the Forster Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET) sensors, which measure the flow of sugars in individual cells with a simple color change.

The sensor, according to researchers, has been able to quantify very low concentrations of lactate and provide an unprecedented range of detection and sensitivity.

“Our new technique lets us measure the metabolism of individual cells, giving us a new window for understanding how different cancers operate,” said Felipe Barros, research team leader. “Standard methods to measure lactate are based on reactions among enzymes, which require a large number of cells in complex cell mixtures. That makes it difficult or even impossible to see how different types of cells are acting when cancerous.”

Diagnostic Process is Difficult

The diagnostic process with mesothelioma traditionally has been a long, complex and often frustrating process, taking months to complete. It usually involves multiple procedures performed by different medical professionals. And it is far from an exact science.

Mesothelioma is sometimes missed because early symptoms can mirror those of less serious illnesses. Mesothelioma is a rare cancer that is caused by exposure to asbestos fibers and the majority of medical professionals are unaccustomed to seeing the disease.

There are various imaging tests, like CT scans, PET scans and MRIs that can help early in the process.  There are various tissue biopsies that also are used later. Ones like a thoracoscopy or an excisional biopsy can be complex and taxing for an older patient.

There has been promising research lately on simpler methods like breath tests and various biomarkers found in the blood. This latest research from Chile also is expected to catch the attention of mesothelioma specialists.


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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