NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Investigators at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) have discovered a new cause of mesothelioma linked to a rearrangement in the anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) gene. Unlike previously known causes, this discovery signals potential therapeutic procedures for patients whose tumors harbor the genetic mutation.
The team’s findings, published today in JAMA Oncology, examined 88 consecutive patients with malignant peritoneal mesothelioma who had been diagnosed at a single institution between 2005 and 2015. They also explored ALK rearrangement in a separate series of 205 patients with pleural mesothelioma.
The ALK gene is crucial during embryonic development of the nervous system, but the gene normally shuts down as a patient gets older. Previous studies of genetic rearrangements in lymphoma and lung cancer have found that certain genetic mutations can inadvertently switch on ALK, causing cancer cells to grow and divide.
Mesothelioma occurs in 3,000 new cases every year in the US. Only about 300 of those are peritoneal mesothelioma, which develop in the lining of the patient’s abdomen. In rare cases, young patients who have never been exposed to either radiation therapy or asbestos develop the disease. Principal investigator Lucian Chirieac and his colleagues initially stumbled upon the predicament