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University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center
Publish Date: 09/06/00
Media Contact: AHC Public Relations, (513) 558-4553
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International Team Publishes Results on Asbestos-related Cancer

Cincinnati--New findings from a collaborative asbestos-related cancer research project between Bertrand Rihn, PhD, at the Institut National de Recherche et de Securite in Vandoeurve, France and George Leikauf, PhD, professor of environmental health, University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine, are reported in the Federation of European Biochemical Societies╣ (FEBS) Letters, an online journal, published electronically by Elsevier. Using molecular genetic analysis techniques, this international team of researchers investigated the molecular sequence of events that cause cancer in the cells found in the outer lining of the lungs, called pleural cells.

"We are very excited by our results as they allow understanding of asbestos-related cancer at a molecular level. We hope our results will lead to better diagnosis of this cancer and that it will ultimately allow physicians to tailor treatment to each patient's individual needs," says Rihn.

"Asbestos exposure is a major environmental and occupational health problem today," says Leikauf. The problem remains because many of the asbestos-containing materials used in buildings (built before the International Ban on Asbestos in 1997) can be found today in ceiling tiles, paint, blown insulation, flower beds containing vermiculite, shingles, floor tiles, fire-proofing, and heat-shielding products more than three-years-old. "Asbestos is known to cause lung cancer and mesothelioma, a cancer of the outer lining of the lungs which is almost unique to asbestos exposure," says Leikauf.

In France alone, over 2000 new cases of asbestos-related cancers are found each year. This team of researchers used a new genomic method, called cDNA microarry, to simultaneously examine over 6500 genes comparing mesothelioma cells with normal pleural cells. The researchers led by Rihn and Leikauf found that nearly 300 of these genes were changed by exposure to asbestos. Several of the identified genes could help to explain why asbestos-related cancers are slow to spread and resistant to traditional cancer treatments.

Most of the genes that changed (or were "turned on") play important roles in four cellular functions: an increased macromolecular stability, cell adhesion and recognition, the invasiveness or cell migration, and the extended cell division which is cancer. Several of these genes were confirmed by other methods and are likely to serve as useful markers in the diagnosis of human mesothelioma.

"This global approach allows us to stare cancer in the face," says Leikauf. "We now have a whole new set of molecular markers that could improve the accuracy of diagnosis, and may lead to better treatments that prevent these genes from being "turned on" or expressed."

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