Malignant pleural mesothelioma is a rare tumor that affects the mesothelium, the thin tissue covering the pleura of the lungs and the inner part of the chest.

As Dr. Cristina Belgiovine, a researcher at Humanitas, explains: “This form of cancer is caused by continuous exposure to asbestos, a material that was used a lot in the construction industry in the past and is now declared illegal because it is harmful to health. Exposure to asbestos causes chronic inflammation of the respiratory tract, with the consequent risk of developing cancer.

Dr. Belgiovine is involved in a research project to understand the cellular and molecular mechanisms responsible for the failure to resolve chronic inflammation and DNA damage.


The research project

“What we don’t know,” the researcher continues, “is how inflammation leads to the transformation of normal cells into neoplasms. It is therefore important to try to characterize the factors that play a role in inflammation and promote cancer in people exposed to asbestos. Particular attention must be paid to the molecules involved in the resolution of inflammation. If the inflammation heals there are no serious consequences, but if it does not resolve, it can cause other factors to form that cause irreversible DNA damage.


Towards biomarkers for early diagnosis

“This study could also be useful in the clinical field: the characterization of the main inflammatory mediators in the tumor and plasma of patients could allow the identification of biomarkers for early diagnosis or therapeutic response. Genetic analysis could result in a “molecular signature” to identify individuals predisposed to develop malignant pleural mesothelioma. Finally, in addition to increasing our knowledge of the inflammatory mechanisms that promote the development of cancer, the results of this research could indicate new molecular targets useful for future therapies or in the field of prevention,” concludes Dr. Belgiovine.