The fact that asbestos causes cancer has been largely undisputed for nearly 50 years. Now, researchers supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) have discovered why the fibres cause such damage to the body. "Chronic exposure to asbestos triggers a type of tissue repair," says Emanuela Felley-Bosco, who led the study. "The immune system goes out of balance and is no longer strong enough to combat tumour formation." The research -- a collaboration between the University Hospitals of Zurich, Geneva and Toronto (Canada) as well as the University of Fribourg and ETH Zurich -- was published in the journal Oncogene (*).
Contrary to popular belief, asbestos doesn't cause lung cancer. Rather, it passes through the lungs into a cell layer that surrounds all internal organs (the mesothelium). However, the lymphatic system is unable to clear the long and pointed fibres. Consequently, they remain stuck in the mesothelium where they cause persistent tissue injury, which can lead to cancer. To investigate how organisms react, the researchers injected asbestos fibres into the abdominal cavity of mice, which also contains mesothelium tissue.
Asbestos - Micro-injuries - Reaction - Inflammatory - Signals
Although asbestos is chemically harmless, these micro-injuries trigger an immune reaction: inflammatory signals are sent out, mobilising white blood cells. Tissue repair signalling pathways are activated in the inflamed mesothelium, which...
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