Despite too little funding, researchers continue to make progress on the molecular biology of mesothelioma, and possible new treatment options. Indeed, a very recent discussion among several of the leading edge mesothelioma researchers took place when the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (MARF) held its annual Meso Foundation Symposium on July 12-13 in Washington, DC. The meeting received sponsorship support from several of the national plaintiff's firms representing persons suffering from asbestos-related diseases, and some pharma firms. The list of sponsors (disappointingly) does not include any insurers or defendants in the litigation.
The majority of symposium presentations were video recorded and are available online at no charge: 2012 Symposium Video Presentations. Set out below are some of the molecular biology highlights from MARF's blue ribbon panel presentations on the results of mesothelioma research. The summary was prepared by Michael Tenuto, a second year law student who writes with the benefit of an undergraduate degree in biochemistry, and two years of medical school before turning to law. Mike's been working for my firm this summer as a law clerk; it's a great pleasure to work with Mike.
Genetics and Mesothelioma
Dr. Lee Krug of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center hosted the “Progress in Meso Research
” session. At the 16:00 point in the video, Dr. Krug discussed a 2011 research paper published in Nature Genetics and authored by Drs. Harvey Pass and Michele Carbone, et al. The paper, titled “Germline BAP1 mutations predispose to malignant mesothelioma
,” identified a genetic mutation that greatly increases the likelihood of a person developing mesothelioma. Such findings can be used to identify people to target for early intervention.
During the “What Needs To Be Done?” part of his presentation, Dr. Krug called for increased collaboration among mesothelioma investigators. Dr. Krug also pointed out that there now is a bio- repository for mesothelioma tumors, and that MARF provides financial support to bio-repository (known as the National Mesothelioma Virtual Bank
) because it is a great example of such collaboration. His comments are at the 33:20 point in the video.
Mesothelioma Biomarkers – Dr. Pass Indicates Material News in Two Months
The “Demystifying Scientific Breakthroughs
” session was hosted by several well-known researchers, including Drs. Harvey Pass and David Sugarbaker, as well as Raja Flores, Steven Hahn and Daniel Sterman. At the 21:20 point in the video, Dr. Pass discussed the significance of identifying biomarkers present in persons suffering from mesothelioma. Current biomarkers allow clinicians to use a blood sample to differentiate mesothelioma from lung cancer. At the 23:50 point, Dr. Pass spoke about the discovery of the next significant biomarker, which he hopes will be unique to mesothelioma, as opposed to lung cancer or chest infections. Dr. Pass highlighted apparent progress in finding a biomarker by closing a section of the talk as follows: “Stay tuned. Just wait about two months.” Thus, it appears Dr. Krug may have some significant biomarker research to unveil at the IMIG Conference in Boston in mid-September.
Whole Genome Sequencing for Mesothelioma
At the 31:15 point in the video, Dr. Sugarbaker discusses how whole genome sequencing can lead to the identification of mutational profiles. For example, one group of patients may exhibit mutations in genes a, b, c (profile 1) and a different set of patients may have mutations in genes x, y, z (profile 2). To date, his research has identified about 20 different mutational profiles. The profiles are significant because each profile has a characteristic response to a specific treatment or combination of treatments. Therefore, by identifying a patient’s mutational profile, clinicians can more effectively treat a patient’s specific mesothelioma and minimize the suffering of ineffective treatments.
Dr. Pass Wants 200 More Mesothelioma Samples and Related Information
At the 34:30 point, Dr. Pass commented on Dr. Sugarbaker’s research by stating that a major impediment to future progress, mainly validation of the research, has been a lack of tumor samples. In Dr. Pass’s opinion, only 200 additional tumor samples would need to be sequenced in order to provide needed validation.
Upcoming iMig and MARF Meetings on Mesothelioma Research
The progress of mesothelioma research also will be on display at two upcoming meetings. First is the three day, heavy-duty science available through the International Mesothelioma Interest Group
. The iMig will host its 11th International Conference of the International Mesothelioma Interest Group
in Boston, Massachusetts, from September 11-14, 2012. The speakers include most of the researchers mentioned above, plus one of the world's best epidemiologists, Dr. Julian Peto. Then, at a simpler one-day level, MARF will host the New York Conference on Malignant Mesothelioma: Knowledge is Hope
in New York City, New York, on September 28, 2012.