Malignant pleural mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining of the lungs and chest wall. It is generally caused by exposure to asbestos, and, though it's rare, the numbers of cases are increasing globally. There are few treatments for malignant pleural mesothelioma, though some patients will respond to vinorelbine, an antimitotic chemotherapy drug. Researchers in Ireland have linked this to changes in BRCA1, a gene usually associated with breast cancer.
In the study, published in The Journal of Pathology, researchers looked at 144 mesothelioma samples and found that almost 40 percent did not express the BRCA1 protein, which was linked with lower responses to vinorelbine. In vitro, the researchers were able to make mesothelioma cells sensitive to vinorelbine again by making them express BRCA1 again.
Drugs like vinorelbine, known as microtubule poisons, can be quite toxic--checking whether a patient's tumor expresses BRCA1 before treatment could be used to predict a patient's response and therefore avoid their having to undergo unpleasant and unnecessary side effects if they are unlikely to respond to treatment.