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In Search of a Better Mesothelioma Blood Test


A team from the Center of Molecular Medicine in Bochum, Germany tested the blood of 43 male mesothelioma patients along with 52 control subjects that had been exposed to asbestos but hadn’t developed mesothelioma. Blood was analyzed for the presence of mesothelin, a protein that is the most common blood-based mesothelioma biomarker, and miR-103a-3p, a microRNA gene.

When the team attempted to identify the mesothelioma patients by mesothelin levels alone, they were able to correctly identify 74% of the sick patients. At the same time, the mesothelin-only blood test correctly ruled out mesothelioma in 85% of the healthy control subjects.

The micro RNA gene proved to be a more accurate identifier of mesothelioma. Using the microRNA gene as their only biomarker, the team correctly identified the mesothelioma cases 89% of the time. Unfortunately, the microRNA biomarker was only 63% accurate when it came to ruling out mesothelioma in the control group.

The good news is that, when the two biomarkers were used together, both the sensitivity (ability to correctly identify mesothelioma) and specificity (the ability to correctly rule out mesothelioma in healthy people) were much better. A test using both mesothelin and miR-103a-3p correctly picked up mesothelioma in 95% of the patients who had it. Only 9% of the healthy patients were incorrectly identified as having mesothelioma.

Writing in the online open-access journal PLoS One, author Daniel Weber says, “The obtained results indicate that the use of biomarkers of different molecular classes might be a reasonable approach to assemble a biomarker panel [for mesothelioma].”

Currently, the diagnostic process for malignant mesothelioma is often lengthy and difficult, involving not only blood tests, but imaging studies, tests of lung fluid, and, in most cases, biopsy. Mesothelioma researchers around the globe continue to search for an accurate, non-invasive test that will help doctors identify mesothelioma easier and earlier.


Weber, DG et al, “Combination of miR-103a-3p and Mesothelin Improves the Biomarker Performance of Malignant Mesothelioma Diagnosis”, Dec. 3, 2014, PLoS One, e114483

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