Coping with mesothelioma forces you to learn a lot of scientific medical information you never would have predicted you’d want to know about. But mesothelioma is what’s on your plate now and medical knowledge is what you need. And we are here to help provide it to you when we see something out there we think you ought to know about.
Right now, we think you need to know about hedgehogs. Really. And if you think we mean those cute spiky animals seen mostly in children’s story books, think again. We’re talking about science. Specifically a cell development phase interestingly called “the hedgehog signaling pathway.” You need to know about it because scientists now think that this pathway may lead the way to cancer cell development and they are looking at ways to block this pathway in the hopes of preventing the formation of cancer cells. So this hedgehog pathway might lead the way to successfully treating hard to treat cancers like mesothelioma.
In the 1970s, scientists struggled to understand exactly how an insect egg or a human embryo knew how to grow cells that would turn into complex segmented body parts like legs and toes. Using fruit fly genes, scientists in 1980 discovered a genetic sequence that ensures that developing tissue obtain their correct size, location and cellular content. Because their experiments resulted in fruit fly larvae that had a spiky appearance, they named the genetic sequence “the hedgehog signaling pathway.”
As you can imagine, this hedgehog signaling pathway is very important during the embryo’s development. But then it is supposed to go into hibernation. Except for tissue maintenance and repair, it is supposed to be dormant in adults. Its reactivation now has been linked to the development of several types of cancer, including mesothelioma. Blocking it may offer a potential therapeutic target for new cancer treatment options.
A new study from the University of California San Francisco, using tissue samples from 46 volunteers with malignant pleural mesothelioma, found that aberrant activation of the hedgehog signaling pathway activates the “Glioma-associated oncogene (Gli) family of transcription factors.” Oncogenes make the cancer cells that spur mesothelioma tumor growth. Basically, it’s like waking up the evil zombies and then they run amok. The study, published earlier this year, further found that specifically blocking the Gli activity was better at reducing the spread of mesothelioma cells than just blocking the overall hedgehog signaling pathway.
“Our results strongly suggest that targeting Gli factors holds strong potential for clinically effective treatment options for MPM patients in the near future,” the researchers conclude.
The researchers kindly acknowledge the Kazan law firm’s charitable foundation for its contribution to this project along with the National Cancer Institute and other funding sources.
 Gli as Novel Therapeutic Target in Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma. PLOS ONE 8(3): e57346.