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New drug trials in the fight against mesothelioma

Mesothelioma is like an inevitable bookend to asbestos exposure. What begins as a few microscopic fibers of the mineral asbestos, so slight they float through the air, ends as a cancerous, hardened lining of the lung, making breathing difficult and eventually leading to death.

Asbestos, a seemingly innocuous mineral that was so useful, providing insulation from heat in everything from fire-proof firefighting suits to pipe insulation around the world, to hot pan holders in your grandma's kitchen in California, poses a great and deadly danger to those who are exposed to the aerosolized fibers.

In the United Kingdom, mesothelioma deaths have climbed from less than two hundred a year in the sixties to more than two thousand today. Research is ongoing to develop a treatment that would improve the survival chances and the quality of life of those who contract mesothelioma after inhaling asbestos's deadly fibers. 

One study in the United Kingdom involves a drug known as ganetespib that is designed to prevent mesothelioma tumors. The drug interferes with the functioning of a protein that is necessary for the tumor to grow.

A second study looks at the drug defactinib, which acts on the focal adhesion kinase (FAK), which is used by the cancer stem cells as they develop into cancerous tumors. This study will involve patients from around the world.

The doctor from the University of Leicester is hopeful that by inhibiting the FAK in the mesothelioma stem cells, the use of chemotherapy will be more effective, as stem cells can trigger regrowth of cancer tumors. If the stem cell growth is stopped by defactinib, it could improve the chances of stopping any new tumor growth. 

Source: Science Daily, "Mesothelioma: Two Groundbreaking Trials Into Treatments for Asbestos-Related Cancer," September 23, 2013

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