Asbestos has been in the news recently, from the fear of asbestos exposure in Lower Manhattan due to the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, to attempts to limit litigation and tighten up requirements for claims against asbestos manufacturers.
Still, mesothelioma is still a relatively unknown type of cancer, making news recently as the cause of death of singer Warren Zevon. According to MARF, more Americans will be learning about mesothelioma, because the incidence of the deadly disease is increasing. Research to develop effective treatments lags far behind most other cancers, and most mesothelioma patients still face extreme suffering and then death after less than 18 months.
MARF, a national nonprofit organization whose mission is to eradicate mesothelioma as a life-ending disease, recently embarked on its fourth year of stimulating mesothelioma research through a competitive grant program. This year, MARF attracted a record number of applications.
"We have been seeing a steady increase in the number and quality of applications we receive each year," says MARF Executive Director Christopher Hahn, "and last year we received a superb pool of 10 applications. This year though, we received an astounding 25 applications, and the scientific experts reviewing them are reporting that they are very high quality."
According to Hahn, the 25 applications come from prestigious centers in the United States and six other countries. Applicants include senior mesothelioma researchers, as well as young investigators, newly attracted to the field. The proposals include many of the concepts current in cancer research generally, including gene therapy and immunotherapy. They include studies of the basic make-up of mesothelioma cancer cells, in order to develop new biological markers and molecular targeted therapies. And they include attempts to improve the effectiveness of existing treatments and monitoring methods specific to mesothelioma.
Dr. Harvey Pass, MARF's Science Advisory Board chairman, believes the increased interest in mesothelioma research results from two factors. "In the past few years, small but significant breakthroughs have shown that mesothelioma can be treated. Thus, the hopelessness that for decades surrounded this disease is starting to break down, and the new optimism is bringing more researchers into the field." Pass also believes the funding provided by MARF has created interest among researchers.
According to Hahn, this much needed surge presents a challenge to MARF, as the only national organization devoted to funding mesothelioma research. "As in years past, we are budgeted to fund two research projects this year. But 25 researchers have stepped forward with novel, promising ideas to improve mesothelioma treatment. If we turn 23 of these researchers away, will they come back next year, or will they turn their research toward other cancers where funding is more available?"
For more information, visit the MARF Web site at www.marf.org.