UH cancer researchers make key discovery for mesothelioma - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

UH cancer researchers make key discovery for mesothelioma

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Despite the holiday, work goes on at the University of Hawaii Cancer Research Center.

Just days ago, UH scientists specializing in the area of mesothelioma landed on the cover of a leading cancer research publication. All because of a protein called HMGB1.

UH's international team of researchers identified how HMGB1 contributes to the rare, aggressive mesothelioma cancer. Doctor Haining Yang has been studying it since 2005. "It's a protein that, in the beginning, we found is very critical for the development of the tumor," she explains.

Mesothelioma lines the lungs and abdomen. Most of the time, it's caused by asbestos, a mineral fiber, that we inhale. When asbestos goes in the lung, the first thing released is the HMGB1 molecule.

"That then kickstarts all the process, all the chronic inflammatory process, that drives those cells that have been damaged by the asbestos into growing into a tumor," says Dr. Michele Carbone, who heads up the mesothelioma team.

By discovering and targeting the protein, these scientists hope they'll help identify patients who are at higher risk, as well as try to suppress or delay a tumor's growth.

Doctors have already contacted them for clinical trials. "Some patients even approached us - asking us when are we going to do the clinical trial? They want to be in the clinical trial," says Dr. Yang.

This month's "Cancer Research" publication features their discovery - a big coup in the scientific world - and Dr. Carbone chalks it up to the team's dedication. "Today's July 4th. Look around here. Everybody's here. Why? Because there's a passion into it that it's unique," he says.

Carbone says Hawaii has some of the higher rates of asbestos in the country, in large part, because of materials once used at the Pearl Harbor shipyards.

About 3,000 Americans are diagnosed annually with mesothelioma, and it's estimated about 25 million Americans have been exposed to asbestos. Average survival rate is less than a year; however, if discovered in the early stages, survival rates increase to between five to 10 years.

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