British researchers have discovered that pleural mesothelioma develops along somewhat predictable lines, knowledge that could eventually aid physicians in combating the disease.

A team of scientists from the U.K.’s University of Leicester used artificial intelligence to unlock this discovery, according to a March 26 release from the university.

The research involved AI analysis of 90 mesothelioma tumor samples taken from 22 cases of pleural mesothelioma following surgery, according to the release and the team’s published findings, which appeared in the March 19 edition of the journal Nature Communications.

Patterns Influence Survival

The team concluded that mesothelioma cells “evolve along similar or repeated paths between individuals.” And these discernable courses “predict the aggressiveness and possible therapy of this otherwise incurable cancer,” according to the release.

More specifically, they found that while exomic expression within a tumor varied widely across the study, the path of progression tended to follow a certain sequence. They detected five clusters that they deemed to have prognostic value, with cancer cells replicating and mutating in a discernable pattern.

They noted that these “events” involved certain genes and occurred in a largely predetermined order. For example, events involving the BAP1 or FBXW7 genes “are almost always early,” while events involving the NF2 gene “are predominantly late.”

A Learning Curve

“It has long been appreciated that asbestos causes mesothelioma, however how this occurs remains a mystery,” said Dean Fennell, who chairs the University of Leicester’s thoracic medical oncology division and was involved in the research.

He noted that the predictable paths detected by the AI could affect both patient survival and the composition of the tumor’s microenvironment.

“Using AI to interrogate genomic ‘big data,’ this initial work shows us that mesotheliomas follow ordered paths of mutations during development, and that these so-called trajectories predict not only how long a patient may survive, but also how to better treat the cancer,” Fennell said in the release.

Fennell oversaw work on a separate study, which found that the immunotherapy drug nivolumab can buy relapsed mesothelioma patients more time.

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