A protein called transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-β) might be an effective biomarker for pleural mesothelioma. New research shows it could help diagnose the asbestos cancer and distinguish it from other lung conditions.
The findings come from researchers at the West German Cancer Center in Essen, Germany.
They studied patients with malignant mesothelioma, non-malignant pleural diseases or lung cancer. TGF-β levels were different in mesothelioma patients than they were in people with other diseases. They correlated with mesothelioma survival.
This suggests that TGF-β could make a good biomarker for pleural mesothelioma.
How Do Doctors Use a Biomarker for Pleural Mesothelioma?
A biomarker for pleural mesothelioma is a substance whose presence indicates that a person has the disease. Some biomarkers occur in higher amounts when a person has an illness. Others may be found exclusively in sick patients and not in healthy people.
Mesothelin is an example of a biomarker for mesothelioma. Studies show mesothelioma patients tend to express more mesothelin than healthy people. But mesothelioma is not the only condition that causes the body to produce extra mesothelin.
Likewise, everyone has some TGF-β in their body. This protein performs many important functions. It helps control cell growth, proliferation, differentiation, and death.
But emerging evidence shows TGF-β may also play a role in the formation of mesothelioma tumors. Researchers theorized that it might be useful as a biomarker for pleural mesothelioma. They needed to show that mesothelioma patients had more of it than other people.
Testing TGF-β in Several Sets of Patients
The German researchers analyzed past medical records from three types of patients. They examined the medical records of 48 pleural mesothelioma patients, 24 patients with non-malignant pleural disease (NMPD), and 30 patients with stage IV lung cancer.
To test its usefulness as a biomarker for pleural mesothelioma, the German team checked TGF-β levels in the blood serum and pleural fluid (effusions) of all subjects.
“Pleural effusions from MPM patients had significantly higher TGF-β levels than from NMPD or lung cancer patients,” writes lead author Paul Stockhammer. It did not seem to matter what subtype of mesothelioma a person had.
TGF-β also appears to have value as a prognostic biomarker for pleural mesothelioma. This means that the protein could do more than just indicate that a person has the disease.
Tests showed the level of TGF-β in lung fluid might be more important for prognosis than TGF-β in blood serum. The team observed, “High TGF-β levels in pleural effusion, but not in serum, was significantly associated with inferior overall survival.”
TGF-β levels in lung fluid were higher in people with later stage disease and in those with larger tumors. This kind of prognostic information can be a vital part of treatment planning for mesothelioma.
Stockhammer, P, et al, “Detection of TGF-β in pleural effusions for diagnosis and prognostic stratification of malignant pleural mesothelioma”, November 18, 2919, Lung Cancer, https://www.lungcancerjournal.info/article/S0169-5002(19)30727-5/fulltext