Compared to other malignancies, mesothelioma is relatively rare. Out of the more than 1.6 million cancer diagnoses made every year in the U.S., only about 3,000 are of mesothelioma, according to the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society. While these numbers might make it sound like few scientists would be interested in investigating this disease, this could not be further from the truth.
Dozens of scientific teams are currently laboring over the causes of, treatments for and best methods of detecting mesothelioma. Recently, the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation awarded special grants to five researchers whose work is especially innovative.
Mesothelioma research requires advocacy, support
The 2011/2012 Mesothelioma Research Grant Awards (MRGAs) will help scientists examine this disease from several distinct angles. With the support of partners like Kazan, McClain, Lyons, Greenwood and Harley, the Meso Foundation hopes to support the efforts to detect, treat and even cure mesothelioma.
Here are this year’s five grantees.
Dr. Tao Dao of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center is conducting research into immunotherapy for mesothelioma. He proposes using special antibodies in the human body to target WT1, a protein made by tumors. Dao’s approach involves using monoclonal antibodies, which have the potential to locate WT1 even though this protein occurs within (rather than outside of) malignant cells. This form of treatment could also apply to many other cancers.
Dr. Assunta DeRienzo of Brigham and Women’s Hospital has begun mapping the entire genome of 10 different mesothelioma tumors. With the help of this year’s MRGA, such genetic profiling could potentially locate the DNA mutations responsible for the rise and spread of mesothelioma.
Dr. Marc Ladanyi, also of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, will use his MRGA to investigate the effects of BAP1 inactivation. Tests have found that in nearly half of all mesothelioma tumors, a particular gene – named BAP1 – is deactivated. Dr. Ladanyi proposes three separate experiments to examine how this genetic change contributes to mesothelioma.
Dr. Liang-Chuan S. Wang of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania is investigating the connection between interferon-gamma (a protein vital to immune response) and mesothelioma. This research will also look at how the disease becomes resistant to chemotherapy.
Finally, Dr. Nadia Zaffaroni of Milan’s Fondazione IRCCS Istituto Nazionale Tumori will use her grant to investigate microRNA as a biomarker for mesothelioma – and, possibly, as a target for therapies.