University of Hawaii Gets Grant to Study Mesothelioma

Researchers at the University of Hawaii Cancer Center and the John A. Burns School of Medicine have been gifted with a $3 million research grant that will be earmarked to study mesothelioma. Study mesothelioma cancer cellsUH Cancer Center Associate Professor Haining Yang and Dr. Michele Carbone, a well-known mesothelioma specialist and the director of thoracic oncology at UH, received as joint principal investigators a 3-year, $1.9-million Translational Team Science Award for their study, “HMGB1 and Its Isoforms as Biomarkers for Mineral Fiber Exposure and Mesothelioma Detection,” reported the university.

A press release explained that the researchers will work, in particular, on how to discover so-called “biomarkers” that help medical professionals to predict a particular individual’s risk of developing mesothelioma. A reviewer of the study noted, “It could have impact on military personnel who have had asbestos exposure and hopefully lead to early detection of mesothelioma.”

In addition, Carbone and Yang are the principal investigators for a 2-year, $600,000 Idea Award with Special Focus for the study, “Identification and Validation of Novel Germline DNA Variants Associated to Increased Risk of Malignant Mesothelioma.”

“The aim of the study is to identify novel genes that, when mutated, increase the risk of developing mesothelioma, especially among asbestos-exposed individuals,” the press release explained. “This potential discovery would lead to screening of susceptible individuals for prevention and early detection and to specific drug designs.”

Pietro Bertino, assistant researcher at the John A. Burns School of Medicine, received a 3-year, $550,000 Career Development Award for his study, “Preclinical Development of TVAX: An Advanced Multiantigen Vaccine for Therapy and Prevention of Malignant Mesothelioma.”

He hopes to develop a vaccine that can be used to combat this aggressive form of cancer, for which the only known cause is exposure to asbestos.

Dr. Bertino’s career goal is to become a translational research scientist focused on the development of treatment and prevention therapies for mesothelioma, the school reports.

Historically, research into the causes and treatments for malignant mesothelioma have been grossly underfunded. It has only been in the last 10 years or so that more attention has been focused on the plight of those suffering from this disease.

In the United States, some 2,000 to 3,000 individuals are diagnosed with some form of mesothelioma each year. About one-third of those individuals are former U.S. Armed Forces members, especially Navy vets.

Former members of the Navy are extremely susceptible to developing mesothelioma because they were regularly exposed to asbestos used in the ships they helped build or on which they sailed. The material was used primarily as an insulator due to its incredible heat- and fire-resistant properties.

Others who are prime candidates for mesothelioma worked in a variety of industries prior to about 1980, when laws were passed governing the use of asbestos. These include steel workers, contractors/construction workers, mechanics, machinists, insulators, plumbers, pipefitters, electricians, power plant workers, railroad workers, and many others.

Often, it has been proven that executives for a multitude of companies knew about the dangers of asbestos exposure but failed to issue warnings.