It has been known for decades that asbsestos causes mesothelioma, a deadly type of lung cancer. The first wave of mesothelioma victims were largely workers who had come into direct contact with the mineral. The number of cases and similarities pointed to the culprit.
However, until recently, it has not been known exactly how asbestos exposure can result in the onset of mesothelioma in the body. A very recent study by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) finally outlines the mechanism that produces chronic inflammation and mesothelioma.
Their hope is that the knowledge will give us the tools to help prevent tissue damage, and offer an effective treatment to victims of the disease.
The research paper was published in the journal Oncogene, and came about as a result of a collaboration between the University Hospitals of Zurich, Geneva, and Toronto as well as the University of Fribourg and ETH Zurich.
- Asbestos becomes a danger to human health when it breaks down into friable (inhalable) dust.
- That dust consists of individual asbestos fibres, which are long and pointed.
Once they enter the lungs, they pass into the mesothelium, a membrane that covers the internal organs, including the lungs. The asbestos fibres don’t break down, and they can’t be flushed out by the body’s own lymphatic system.
The asbestos fibres produce a continuous string of what are called micro-injuries to the lung tissue from inside the mesothelium. The body attempts to repair those constant micro-injuries, sending white blood cells and initiating other processes that the body uses to repair itself. The problem is, the injuries never stop.
The paper quotes Emanuela Felley-Bosco, who led the study. “Chronic exposure to asbestos triggers a type of tissue repair,” he says. “The immune system goes out of balance and is no longer strong enough to combat tumour formation.”
The researchers found that there were changes in the RNA, which is essentially a copy of the DNA. While it is yet a hypothesis, they theorized that the body eventually attempts to stop the ongoing inflammatory response sparked by the presence of asbestos fibres, and that is what weakens the immune system and leads to the development of tumours.
Hope for the Future
The hope is that knowing the exact mechanism will lead to immune therapies that can be used to slow down or halt the process. “A therapy against immune system inhibitors is a promising approach,” says Felley-Bosco.
Their research may also help in the understanding of other cancers and conditions which are known to be caused by chronic inflammation. These include:
- ulcerative colitis,
- Crohn’s disease,
- Helicobacter pylori infections.
Be Safe, Not Sorry
Asbestos, mesothelioma, and the many other health issues it can cause, are no joke. It’s wonderful that progress is being made, but prevention beats a cure.
If your home was built before the 1980s, there’s a good chance it contains asbestos in some for. Let our experienced asbestos removal and asbestos remediation technicians help keep your family safe. In the Toronto area call Environmental at (416) 818-9414. Contact us for a quote today.
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