Washington: Scientists claim to have discovered a genetic link to mesothelioma , an aggressive cancer of the lining of the chest and abdomen.

A team from the University of Hawaii, Honolulu, and Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia, has found that people who carry a mutation in a gene, called BAP1, are susceptible of developing mesothelioma, a journal said.

Moreover, when these people are exposed to asbestos or similar mineral fibers, their risk of developing mesothelioma may be markedly increased, say the scientists.

"This discovery is a first step in understanding the role of the BAP1 gene and its potential utility when screening for mutations in those at high risk," said Michele Carbone, who led the team.

She added, "Identifying people at greatest risk for developing mesothelioma, especially those exposed to dangerous levels of asbestos worldwide, is a task made easier by virtue of this discovery."

The study describes two US families with a high incidence of mesothelioma associated with mutations of the BAP1 gene.

Looking more closely at two families with unusually high rates of mesothelioma, they saw that every person who had provided a sample and had developed mesothelioma or melanoma of the eye also carried mutations in the BAP1 gene.

Further investigation led to sequencing the gene in 26 individuals who had developed mesothelioma but did not have a family history of the disease. Tumours from some 25 per cent of this group carried mutations in BAP1 gene, and in two cases the mutations were inherited.