As a naturally occurring mineral, asbestos comes in several different forms with each one having its own level of destructiveness. A recent geological study specifically focused on crocidolite asbestos, known for its blue tint, because it is the most pernicious form of asbestos.

The study is titled “Repetitive Dissociation from Crocidolite Asbestos Acts as Persistent Signal for Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor,” and was published in the journal Langmuir. Essentially, what this title means is that asbestos constantly binds to the epidermal growth factor receptor, which spurs the growth of mesothelioma.

“We chose crocidolite because it has been shown to be one of the most toxic asbestos minerals. Although it is less abundant than chrysotile both naturally and in industry, it is more persistent in the human body,” said Dr. Eric Taylor, one of the leaders of the study.

Geologists Steven Lower and Eric Taylor led the study with other researchers to learn the tie between asbestos and cancer. This is part of a branch of geology dedicated to learning how naturally occurring minerals affect human health. This is exciting because it has the potential to contribute to mesothelioma research. While doctors are pushing forward with mesothelioma research, now there is research on asbestos tied to biology rather than just geology.

Lower’s specialties include mineralogy and microbiology. He focuses on cancer caused by “nanoscale minerals,” including asbestos. Lower also studies carbon nanotubes; these are manmade, microscopic materials made from graphite that could have similar effects to asbestos.

Taylor completed his graduate research at Ohio State University with the guidance of Lower, making them a formidable team in asbestos research. Taylor has a specific interest in how asbestos fibers affect the mesothelial cells in the lungs.

EGFR and Its Relation to Mesothelioma

Epidermal growth factor receptor helps cell division. It’s a signaling pathway that is utilized by cancer cells to grow uncontrollably. It’s also a key component in the development of mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is an epithelial cancer that affects the linings of cavities in the body designed to protect certain organs such as the lungs. Epithelial cells in the body are mutated by asbestos,0 causing them to replicate constantly. Regeneration of these cells is dependent upon EGFR. There are several emerging treatments focusing on blocking this pathway to prevent and regress the growth of mesothelioma cells. One of these treatments is defactinib, recently reported on by Mesothelioma Guide.

“Blocking the communication between the mineral and the host tissue would be similar to locking a door and throwing away the key,” said Dr. Taylor about inhibiting mesothelioma and EGFR communication. “The tissues would sense the presence of the mineral, but would not have the key to cancer genesis.”

Further geological research could contribute to advances in treatment and prevention of mesothelioma in the future.

“Researching molecules that help prevent the onset or continued conversion of healthy cells into cancerous cells may be a viable option for victims of asbestos exposure who may or may not have begun to develop tumors,” said Dr. Taylor.

Preventing the Danger of Asbestos Exposure

Lower and Taylor believe they can create a substance to coat asbestos fibers and render them ineffective as a carcinogen. This substance would block asbestos fibers from binding to EGFR. Development of the protective agent is still years down the road, but it would interfere with the bond between EGFR pathways and asbestos. This would be an amazing development as asbestos exposure still occurs and would make asbestos abatement less dangerous.

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    About the Writer, Andrew Devine

    Andrew Devine is a contributing writer for Mesothelioma Guide. He has developed an interest in educating patients and their families on everything from new treatments to what to expect after diagnosis.