Malignant mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that affects the mesothelium -- the protective lining that covers the internal organs, such as the lungs, the heart and the abdominal cavity. It is estimated that malignant mesothelioma affects up to 3,200 people in the USA each year, most of whom die within a year of diagnosis. The primary cause of this cancer is exposure to asbestos, which used to be used in building construction. The inhalation of asbestos fibers causes inflammation that can cause mutations in cells even after 30-50 years of dormancy.
Most cancers are thought to be monoclonal, where all the cells in a tumor can be traced back to a mutation in a single cell. Researchers from University of Hawaii Cancer Center set out to investigate whether this was the case with malignant mesothelioma, or if it was polyclonal in which the tumor is the result of the growth of two or more mutant distinct cells.
During early development of the female embryo one of the two X chromosomes becomes inactivated and this inactivation is passed on to all subsequent cells. By tracing this inactivated X using a process called HUMARA assay it is possible to determine whether or not a cancer is monoclonal.
In this study, 16 samples from 14 tumor biopsies from women with mesothelioma had a HUMARA assay performed on them. These were compared to control DNA samples from a healthy male and female, and a known monoclonal cell line. The samples provided insight into the origin of...
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