Notes from Mary Hesdorffer, Executive Director of the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation

mary1The past four months have rapidly flown by and I had hoped to correspond with you more often and in greater detail since assuming my new role. I am enjoying this position and I must confess it has its challenges, but each day, with the assistance of the Foundation’s talented staff, we make progress and work toward fulfilling our mission. Our mission statement is posted online and was crafted with the input of board and staff. We feel that we have clearly stated the objectives of the organization and are anxious to hear what your thoughts about the direction of the Foundation. I have scheduled a town hall meeting for next week as I have not had an opportunity to thank many of our supporters and to hear their viewpoints on the mission of the Foundation and how it is meeting their current needs.

Right now my focus is on the peer-reviewed grants program. I meet with the Board of Directors (BOD) on Thursday night for a decision on the number of grants to fund. As you may recall, the Foundation administers a robust peer-reviewed research grants program which is one of the major focuses of our Scientific Advisory Board (SAB). Please view the bios of this talented group of scientists who review the grants in great detail in a process based upon the system used by our National Institute of Health. Why such a laborious process? Simple – without a strong scientific review, and oversight following funding, your research dollars would have little value. We ensure that each dollar donated to our research program is treated with respect and good faith that it will be used as intended, with oversight and transparency. The SAB recommends the grants that are worthy of funding and the BOD has the fiscal responsibility to allocate budgeted funds for this purpose. I want to personally thank Dr. Lee Krug, Chair of our SAB for leading the process and keeping us informed of progress of the grant review. His strong leadership and scientific knowledge guided this rigorous process.

It is with great excitement that I await Thursday’s meeting and we will share this news with the community quickly and with great enthusiasm.

TOWN HALL MEETING
WHAT: Town hall meeting (conducted via conference call)
WHEN: 8:00 p.m. EST Wed. Jan. 23rd
WHO: Everyone is invited
WHY: To discuss Foundation updates and its programs and to allow for question/answer with executive director
WHERE/HOW: Conference call in number: (605) 475-4000
Participant Access Code: 216145

FROM THE HEADLINES: International Team from the University of Hawai’i Identifies Protein Critical in Development of Mesothelioma

Former Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation’s grant recipient, Dr. Haining Yang  (University of Hawai’i), is once again making news with the recent discovery of a protein that is activated following exposure to asbestos leading to the development of malignant mesothelioma.  As reported by MedicalXpress.com, Dr. Haining Yang, PhD, and an international team of researchers have identified HMGB1 as a critical protein in the development of malignant mesothelioma. Dr. Yang’s findings are the cover story of the July 1’s Cancer Research, one of the nation’s leading cancer research publications.

“We are very excited about this discovery and are extremely pleased that it was also chosen to be the featured cover story,” said Yang. “The next step is to translate this discovery into actual treatments for mesothelioma patients.”

This discovery into the growth of mesothelioma offers scientists an opportunity to develop specific therapies for mesothelioma patients. Mesothelioma, a malignant tumor of the lining of the lung, abdomen, or heart known to be caused by exposure to asbestos is considered one of the most aggressive of all cancers. Approximately 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma every year, yet available treatments have limited effectiveness. Identifying this biomarker for early detection will help shed light on developing new treatments for mesothelioma prevention and therapy.

Earlier this year this same lab worked collaboratively with others to announce the first gene associated with malignant mesothelioma BAP1. Dr. Giovanni Gaudino from the University of Hawai’i will be discussing BAP1 and its possible utility as a target for therapy and identifying those at high risk to develop mesothelioma at the Meso Foundation’s 2012 Symposium during the “Demystifying Scientific Breakthroughs” panel. It is a very exciting time for mesothelioma research and the promise for further scientific breakthroughs will be the focus of discussion at the Symposium.

The current study was an international effort and included investigators from the University of Hawai‘i Cancer Center, the John A Burns School of Medicine in Honolulu, the San Raffaele University and Research Institute in Milan, Italy, the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., and the New York University School of Medicine.

FROM THE HEADLINES: The Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation Appears before the United States Senate Committee on Appropriations

Last week, on June 6, 2012, Mary Hesdorffer, MS, APRN, nurse practitioner and medical liaison for the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation, appeared before the United States Senate Committee on Appropriations – Subcommittee on Defense, at their Fiscal Year 2013 Appropriations Outside Witness Testimony Hearing. Speaking with the voice of the Meso Foundation and its community, Mary made an appeal to the lawmakers for their attention concerning mesothelioma and its impact on those who served to defend the United States.

The Meso Foundation played a critical role in making peritoneal mesothelioma and pleural mesothelioma eligible topics within the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program. The first ever DoD award for mesothelioma occurred in 2008 when one investigator obtained over $1.3 million for research. A total of $7.7 million has been awarded to mesothelioma research through the Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program and the Peer Reviewed Cancer Research Program, both divisions of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program, which is administered by the Department of Defense since Fiscal Year 2008. Continue reading “FROM THE HEADLINES: The Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation Appears before the United States Senate Committee on Appropriations” »

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?” »

“Chemo Brain”: Fact or Fiction?

Over the years patients have been informing their doctors that they experience “chemo brain”.  We now have scientific proof that this is a real entity and hopefully this study will encourage further research into prevention and or treatment of this very real phenomenon. This was a difficult area to address as there are so many other conditions that affect cognition during the cancer experience.  Many of the drugs that are prescribed for nausea, pain control and depression can also impact on short term memory. Narcotics affect many cognitive functions and sometimes an adjustment or change to a different class of drug is warranted.  Depression as a single entity impacts on memory and ability to focus which also mimics this condition we know as “chemo brain”. It remains important to discuss with your medical team any changes associated with brain function and do not “chalk it up to chemo brain”.

The following is an article about it published by the National Cancer Institute (NCI):

Chemotherapy Affects Brain Structure of Breast Cancer Patients

A new study has provided some of the strongest direct evidence to date that chemotherapy has physical effects on areas of the brain that, when altered, could result in the array of cognitive symptoms that is often called “chemo brain.” The study was published online August 6 in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment.

In a small study of women with breast cancer, researchers from the Indiana University School of Medicine used MRI scans to show that chemotherapy was associated with a decrease in the density of brain gray matter. The affected areas include those involved in memory and in the ability to process information. Although several other studies have shown similar changes in these areas of the brain, this was the first study to follow women prospectively and to compare scans before and after chemotherapy.

“The alterations in gray matter density observed in the [chemotherapy] group are… consistent with the pattern of cognitive complaints and impairment found in neurocognitive studies,” wrote Dr. Andrew J. Saykin and colleagues.

The study included 17 women with breast cancer who underwent chemotherapy after surgery, 12 women with breast cancer who did not receive chemotherapy after surgery, and a control group of 18 healthy women. The initial MRI scans, performed shortly after surgery in the participants with cancer, showed no notable differences in gray matter density among the three groups. One month after completion of chemotherapy, however, MRI scans revealed notable decreases in gray matter density in women with breast cancer, as well as changes in gray matter density in women who received surgery only, although the changes for these women were not as great. No changes were seen in women in the control group. After 1 year, women treated with chemotherapy had recovered gray matter losses in some regions, but other deficits persisted.

Exactly how chemotherapy may be causing these changes is unclear, said study co-author Dr. Brenna McDonald. “However, the finding that the changes appear to resolve naturally to some degree in the first year after chemotherapy is completed is a very positive one,” she wrote in an e-mail message. Because of the limited follow-up in the study, she continued, it’s unclear how much further recovery may occur naturally. A number of studies have shown that such cognitive effects can persist for many years, she added. Additional studies are investigating whether other therapies, such as tamoxifen, may have similar effects on brain structure.