FROM THE MESOTHELIOMA APPLIED RESEARCH FOUNDATION’S “MEET THE EXPERTS” SERIES: An Evening of Research Breakthroughs with Dr. Raffit Hassan

Tonight, as part of the “Meet the Experts” podcasts presented exclusively from the Meso Foundation, Dr. Raffit Hassan, Senior Investigator and Chief of the Solid Tumor Immunotherapy Section in the Laboratory of Molecular Biology at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and former Chair of the Meso Foundation’s Science Advisory Board, sat down with Mary Hesdorffer, Nurse Practitioner and Medical Liaison for the Meso Foundation, to discuss his research into mesothelin and development of  clinical trials  using mesothelin as a target for epithelial malignant mesothelioma, providing both pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma patients with the potential of much-needed new treatment options.

In his talk “Mesothelin: A New Target for Immunotherapy” Dr. Hassan discussed the novel therapies for the treatment of mesothelioma. Laboratory investigation, carried out by Dr. Ira Pastan, Dr. Hassan, and colleagues at the NCI, has demonstrated that mesothelin, a tumor antigen which was discovered at the NCI, is a useful target for tumor-specific therapy of malignant mesothelioma. Morab 009, a chimeric anti mesothelin monoclonal antibody, has completed a multi center trial and we expect to hear the results at the Annual  ASCO Meeting taking place in early June. (American Society of Clinical Oncology).

This evening, in his talk, Dr. Hassan outlined the approval process by which patients can become part of this trial.

Good candidates for this trial are generally those patients who have already had some type of treatment. For example, patients who are not good candidates for surgery or those who have had surgery in the past and patients who have had at least Alimta-based therapy would be considered good candidates.

The first step is an initial screening, beginning with the patient’s doctor and then a face-to-face interview with Hassan, his team, and all data from the patient’s physician. If, following the initial tests, the patient is found a suitable candidate, NCI will help with travel expenses to enable the patient to participate in the trial. “At no time,” Dr. Hassan assured, “either in the initial screening or in the trail itself is the patient charged for treatments.”

Some side effects have included weight gain and leg swelling, mainly coming from fluid retention, and a decrease in albumin, a blood protein. However, Dr. Hassan commented, “These side effects usually disappeared by the time of the patient’s discharge from the hospital.”

More information about this trial is available at the Meso Foundation by emailing mary@curemeso.org or by calling (703) 879-3820.

Mesothelin, defined by MedicineNet.com, is a protein found on cell surfaces. Certain antibodies bind themselves to mesotheliomas and other tumors, so soluble mesothelin-related proteins (SMR) are used to identify mesothelioma patients and to monitor the cancer’s progression of their disease. SMR concentrations tend to run higher with mesothelioma patients than patients battling other cancerous or pleural diseases, and SMR concentrations often correlate with tumor size and progression.

A 2011 recipient of the Meso Foundation’s Pioneer Award for breakthroughs in mesothelioma research, Dr. Hassan has focused his own trials on targeting mesothelin as a potential treatment of patients with mesothelioma. Dr. Hassan’s research began in the NCI laboratory and continues to this day.

If you missed tonight’s “Meet the Experts” presentation, you can replay Dr. Hassan’s talk or download it as one of our podcasts at our website.

The Meso Foundation’s Volunteers of the Year Award Recipients: Erica Iacono and Janice Malkotsis

At the Meso Foundation’s annual symposium — this year, happening July 12-13 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, DC — individuals are bestowed honors for superlative service to the community, ranging from volunteer efforts to advancement in research. The Volunteer of the Year award honors an individual who has given both time and resources to advance the mission of the Meso Foundation. Recipients of this achievement have taken it upon themselves to make sure that mesothelioma, its devastating effects, and the pressing necessity of ongoing research continues to be brought to the forefront of the world in order to effect change. This year, the Meso Foundation is thrilled to bestow this honor to Erica Iacono and Janice Malkotsis. Erica and Janice have over the past seven years been organizing a run/walk in the New York area, raising over $100,000 for mesothelioma. They are huge advocates for mesothelioma awareness and research, and continue to assist the Meso Foundation in getting the word out there about this disease.

Erica Iacono took a moment to chat with us at the Meso Foundation about how she and Janice began their collaboration to raise awareness. “We actually met through the Meso Foundation. My dad passed away in 2000 from mesothelioma, and I eventually got in touch with the Foundation, wanting to volunteer, raise awareness; but at the time, the Meso Foundation was a brand new organization so the volunteer network was limited. Continue reading “The Meso Foundation’s Volunteers of the Year Award Recipients: Erica Iacono and Janice Malkotsis” »

Science Fiction or Science Fact — How Believable Is “Cutting Edge” Research?

Did you hear the latest? Red wine, a study has shown, might be instrumental in treating mesothelioma patients.

Really? Come on. In the Google search “what can red wine treat” the search results claim that red wine can also help treat:

  • Breast cancer
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Diabetes
  • Concussions

And this is just on the first page of results. Continue reading “Science Fiction or Science Fact — How Believable Is “Cutting Edge” Research?” »

A Social Media Moment: Knowing Boundaries

Our nurse-practitioner-of-infinite-awesome, Mary Hesdorffer, brought to my attention that on our Facebook page there has been more and more activity appearing, people ranging from mesothelioma survivors to those surviving loved ones lost. She mentioned to me that she got an impression from some new to Facebook that they were not sure what is appropriate and inappropriate to share on the Facebook platform. For many of our users, the visit to our online group or fan page is their first foray into the social network. Where do you begin to figure out the rules of engagement, as it were?

Well, your answer really is in what Facebook is all about, isn’t it? Facebook is a social network, so it’s all about being social. While completing your profile (which I suggest you do because the more complete profile, the easier it is to connect and interact with people) is important, it can be a bit daunting, especially if you classify yourself as a private person. The thing to keep in mind with Facebook is it is very much like any social interaction: you have boundaries, just as others do, and you must respect them.

This may sound funny, particularly from the guy who just last week was telling you to “Share! Share! Share!” Trust me — there is a method to my madness. Continue reading “A Social Media Moment: Knowing Boundaries” »

6 Tips on Planning Your Own Fundraiser

All the way from the Southern Hemisphere, the Meso Foundation received a question from Katelyn Yates:

“Hi there, I am wondering if you have any suggestions for raising money or awareness for this terrible disease? I am very keen to help in any way.”

Perhaps the best way to raise money and awareness for mesothelioma research is, not surprisingly, a fundraiser. Mesothelioma research fundraisers of various kinds happen not only in the United States, but around the world. Just recently, the third annual Miles for Meso South Florida 8K, organized by Meso Foundation volunteer, Larry Davis, brought together hundreds of runners and raised nearly $50,000 for mesothelioma research. This weekend, James Brennan, the Meso Foundation’s own Endurance Events Volunteer is running a 100 mile Ultramarathon in order to raise awareness for more research into mesothelioma while honoring his father who is a mesothelioma patient. Erica Ruble just organized a poker tournament benefiting mesothelioma research and the Meso Foundation. And many other events are already in the works in anticipation of Meso Awareness Day (September 26)

Whether it is something as epic as a 100 mile Ultramarathon, as simple as a letter writing campaign, or as creative as a writing a cookbook, the Meso Foundation believes that fundraisers serve two purposes: they raise money for research, and raise awareness. Fundraisers are also a chance to expand your creativity, putting personal resources, interests and skills to the test in developing a success.

But where to begin? And what do I do after Step 1?

Here are a few tips from the Meso Foundation on putting together a successful and fun fundraiser.

Decide on the kind of event you want to host and if the event will help you reach your goals. This is the part that is usually the most fun, but also the most infuriating — what do you want to do to raise money? Ideas bandied about between friends can be in endless supply, but eventually it should come down to one fundraiser (with a handful of others set aside for a follow-up if your first outing demands it). What you need to find is the kind of event where donors will (eagerly) give their money for something in return. Some of the more successful fundraisers have included, but are not limited to:

  • Runs/ Walks
  • Silent Auctions/ Raffles
  • Sporting events (golf tournaments, soccer games, etc.)
  • Poker Tournaments

The important thing in fundraising, whether as an individual or as part of a group is finding something that appeals to you. For example, one meso volunteer is an avid kayaker, so he is kayaking the Hudson River to honor his young daughter Linda, who was diagnosed with meso at the age of 16. The event can truly be anything you want it to be, provided it is clear for what organization or cause the money is being raised.

Give yourself time to plan. Fundraisers should never be planned on a whim. There are many factors to consider — date, time, location, publicity, and (of course) goals. All of these factors come into play when planning a successful fundraiser. Your planning should begin with a “To Do” list and “Timeline” for you and your team, or just yourself, in order to keep your fundraiser on track and on schedule. A planning schedule can be anywhere from two months to half-a-year, depending on the resources and scale of your fundraiser.

No matter how solid your plan appears, have a contingency plan in place. When planning your fundraiser, make sure your budget has a reasonable, manageable buffer in case of unforeseen expenses. If your event is reliant on the weather, find out if you can plan for a rain date. Try to imagine every worst-case scenario you and your support staff can think of, and then try and prepare for the problems you least expect.

Give your event a realistic goal. Telling people that you are trying to raise $25,000 is better than saying we are trying to raise as much money as possible, but make sure that your goal is reachable. You don’t want to have your goal be too modest (Raising $1,000 is easier than you might think.), but you also don’t want to make your goal unobtainable. ($500,000 isn’t a million dollars, but it is still half a million dollars.) Having a goal will motivate people to help you get there. If, perchance you find yourself reaching the goal early, discuss with your group the good and bad of increasing your goal; and, as mentioned before, let people know how those dollars will be spent. People like to know where their hard-earned dollars are going.

Publicize. Take advantage of any and all appropriate publicity opportunities to get word of your event out there. Press releases to local papers, free public events listings, email lists, public service announcements on local and university radio stations, and social media all work together to publicize your event. It is important to check in advance for deadlines of listings to ensure your event is publicized, and publicized at the appropriate time. We at the Meso Foundation are also happy to help spread the word through our own website, emails, newsletter, and social media channels, provided we are given proper notice. Again, this goes back to planning and time needed to properly publicize your event.

Contact our Community Fundraising Co-Chairs. Erica Ruble and Shelly Kozicki have been there and have done that. Between the two of them, they have raised nearly half a million dollars (that’s $500,000!) for mesothelioma research through events like trivia nights, golf tournaments, quartermanias, letter writing campaigns, poker tournaments, roller hockey tournaments, community garage sales, triathlons, and partnering with local grocery stores. They look forward to helping you hit the ground running and get your event started. If you would like to learn more about being mentored by one of our Community Fundraising Committee Co-Chairs, please email Jessica Barker at jbarker@curemeso.org.

There are still other things that you can do to plan for your mesothelioma research fundraiser, and we at the Meso Foundation offer you checklists and other resources to make sure your paperwork is in order, the donations are recorded correctly, and that the money reaches the right people.

For more information on planning your own fundraiser, contact Jessica Barker at (703) 879-3819, or email her at jbarker@curemeso.org. You can also find out more information on becoming involved by visiting www.curemeso.org/events.