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Mesothelioma News

M.D.s spot more 'natural killer' cells in blood of mesothelioma patients
What kinds of bloodborne markers can point to a case of malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM)? There are proteins like osteopontin or mesothelin, but measured levels of these molecules are not always substantial enough to detect mesothelioma. Instead, they're typically used to confirm the disease or to determine its stage.

For this reason, researchers are constantly on the lookout for new biomarkers of MPM. Recently, an Italian team claimed to have found one - the natural killer T cell. Their results appeared in the journal Cancer Biology and Therapy.

An aptly named cell

This is not the first time that scientists have investigated mesothelioma's relationship to the so-called "natural killer" cells. After all, the body generates these cells in response to almost any viral presence, bacterial infection or tumor growth.

Natural killer cells are a critical part of the human immune system. They react relatively quickly, making them the body's de facto first responders to infections and malignancy. Natural killer cells get their name from being cytotoxic - that is, they destroy human cells.

So, if the immune system detects an infection, for example, these cells do not kill the invading bacteria. Instead, they seek out and destroy the infected cells themselves, eliminating them before they can release more pathogens into the body.

This function of natural killer cells also makes them, ahem, naturally suited to suppress tumor growth, especially a variant called natural killer T (NKT) cells. And their heightened presence in the bloodstream might help doctors diagnose mesothelioma.

Cell response matched MPM stage to a T

Prior to the new study, researchers had yet to measure the levels of NKT cells in the blood of patients with mesothelioma. So, for this investigation, the team did just that.

After measuring the levels bloodborne NKT cells in both MPM patients and healthy individuals, researchers compared the two. They also weighed NKT concentrations against MPM patients' disease stages and cellular classification.

The results were quite orderly, not to mention encouraging. The authors found that regardless of whether a patient had epithelioid or sarcomatoid mesothelioma, the levels of NKT cells were still much higher than in healthy participants.

Likewise, the more advanced a patient's MPM, the higher their NKT cell levels. Researchers suggested that by measuring a person's natural killer cell count, it might be easier to stage their mesothelioma or even, perhaps, to diagnose it.

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