Discovering the Origins of Mesothelioma

Illustration of mesothelioma research

Research is at the heart of the International Mesothelioma Program (IMP) at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) in Boston. By studying mesothelioma tumors, our team of physician-scientists has made incredible strides in the search for mutations that can lead to mesothelioma. Their findings support the current understanding that mesothelioma begins with exposure to an irritant—usually asbestos—that triggers a cascade of genetic changes resulting in the disease.

IMP researchers at BWH recently used a new technology called High Throughput Sequencing to examine the entire genome of individual mesothelioma tumors and compared the results to normal tissue from the same person. The goal of genetic sequencing is to identify tumor-specific mutations, each of which may represent a molecular Achille’s heel that will allow us to develop more targeted treatments for our mesothelioma patients. In 200 samples, the largest number of mesothelioma tumors sequenced to date, IMP researchers identified numerous mutations found in tumors but not in normal tissue. Publications describing these results are expected later this year.

Genomic research begins with BWH’s IMP Tumor Tissue Bank—the largest biospecimen bank of mesothelioma tumors in the world. With 27,000 individual sample vials containing specimens from nearly 1,000 mesothelioma patients, we perform genetic tests and genomic sequencing to identify and validate even rare mutations in this rare disease. Our tumor tissue bank has allowed the IMP to keep mesothelioma, an uncommon disease with limited research funding, on the cutting edge of the genomic revolution in medicine.

Recent studies at the IMP have found that although each mesothelioma tumor has a unique mutational profile, groups of tumors share common mutations or molecular markers. Our goal is to test the tumor and be able to predict which drug or therapy would work best to treat it, based on its genomic profile. By doing so, we help advance the future of highly personalized medicine—benefiting patients with mesothelioma at the IMP and throughout the world.

Clinical trials are already underway to test new drugs based on known mutations and unique biological behaviors of mesothelioma tumors. By participating in clinical trials, patients can access new treatments and help future patients by contributing to medical research.

The genomic revolution has given new life to cancer treatment. That’s been the biggest satisfaction not only for the people who work here but also for our patients who have contributed their samples and have been part of the discovery process that will enable us to defeat this disease.

Disclaimer: The content of this blog post is for general educational purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This blog post should not be interpreted as an endorsement by Dr. Bueno of the blog’s sponsor.