Meso Foundation Participates in Prestigious Conference on Lung Cancer

IASLCOn October 27 – 30, Mary Hesdorffer, the executive director of the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (Meso Foundation), and Melinda Kotzian, the chief executive officer of the Meso Foundation, are scheduled to attend and participate in the 15th World Conference on Lung Cancer  in Sydney, Australia, organized by the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC).

They will be representing the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation and will be raising awareness of mesothelioma amidst over 7,000 delegates from over 100 countries.

In her capacity as a nurse practitioner and an expert in mesothelioma treatment and care, Mary is scheduled to speak at several sessions, including one on the use of social media networks to communicate with and provide support to mesothelioma patients. Mary is a viewed as a pioneer in this area. As a speaker, Mary’s travel and lodging costs are entirely covered by IASLC.

Melinda’s travel costs are also covered through a grant by IASLC for which she applied earlier this year. She was one of five grant recipients from all over the world awarded travel grants to enable them to attend this important event.

The Meso Foundation will also be hosting a booth with information about mesothelioma and programs and services provided by the Foundation.

BREAKING NEWS: SS1P Clinical Trial Results Published

Raffit_hassanToday, the Science Translational Medicine journal published the article “Major Cancer Regressions in Mesothelioma After Treatment with an Anti-Mesothelin Immunotoxin and Immune Suppression” by Dr. Raffit Hassan of the NCI, former chair and current member of the Meso Foundation’s Science Advisory Board.

Dr. Hassan explains:

Very few treatment options exist for patients with mesothelioma who have failed chemotherapy. In this months issue of Science Translational Medicine scientists from the National Cancer Institute report a promising treatment that may benefit some patients with mesothelioma. This treatment involves an immunotoxin (which consists of an antibody linked to a potent toxin) SS1P developed in Dr. Ira Pastan’s lab at the NCI, that targets the protein mesothelin present on mesothelioma cells. In previous trials SS1P had limited activity since most patients developed antibodies against the drug. However, in the current study, led by Dr. Raffit Hassan at the NCI, using two other drugs, pentostatin and cytoxan, which suppress part of the immune system, they were able to give patients more doses of SS1P. Out of the 10 evaluable patients treated 3 patients had significant tumor shrinkage and all three patients are alive more than 18 months after starting therapy. In addition, 2 patients who had previously progressed on chemotherapy had a tumor response when treated with chemotherapy following SS1P. Although a small study, these responses in patients who had advanced treatment refractory disease are encouraging and the investigators plan to conduct a larger study to validate these results.

The abstract of the study can be found here. The article was also followed by an editorial by Dr. Ravi Salgia and Dr. Martin Sattler: Sci Transl Med-2013-Salgia-208fs38.

For more information, please contact Mary Hesdorffer, Nurse Practitioner at mary@curemeso.org, (703) 879-3820, or use our Ask the Expert feature to get answers to your questions.

Importance of Dental Hygiene for Mesothelioma Patients

mouth_smallCancer therapies often result in xerostomia (dry mouth), a condition that can lead to increased risk of infection and cavities. Bacteria in the mouth are kept in check by saliva, which is a crucial fist line of defense in maintaining good oral health. When there isn’t enough saliva produced, or the amount available isn’t enough to clear infection-causing bacteria, it is possible to develop sores and excoriated tissue. Dry mouth is also a causative factor of malodorous breath and cavities, as food particles are not cleared away as quickly as they would be in a well-hydrated state.

Symptoms of dry mouth include stringy saliva, cracked or dry lips, difficulty speaking, and a burning sensation. When the mouth becomes too dry, chewing and swallowing are affected and may increase the risk of aspiration pneumonia, a life-threatening condition for at-risk cancer patients.

In mesothelioma patients, xerostomia is most often caused by chemotherapy, but lack of hydration and sometimes radiation can also be the culprits.

Xerostomia can be treated with medications to stimulate the production of saliva or with over-the-counter chewing gum and mouthwashes, depending on the severity.

Scheduling a dentist appointment before initiation of chemotherapy is a good practice to follow in order to identify and correct any dental conditions. Once chemotherapy has begun, patients should  brush 3 to 4 times daily, as vomiting and acid reflux are known to erode dental enamel. During this period, fluid intake should also be increased and gentle flossing should be continued. If platelets become low, patients should discontinue flossing until advised to resume.

It is important for mesothelioma patients to schedule regular dental check-ups. Because some dental interventions should not be performed when a patient is at a high risk for infection or bleeding, patients should inform their dentists if they are receiving chemotherapy treatments.

Bowel Obstructions in Patients with Peritoneal Mesothelioma

Mary Hesdorffer, NPPatients with peritoneal mesothelioma appear to be at an increased risk of bowel obstructions either due to disease or perhaps as a consequence of their treatment. They can be caused by adhesions (scar tissue) and/or tumors among other predisposing conditions. Signs of a bowel obstruction include abdominal pain, cessation of bowel movement, absence of bowel sounds and inability to digest food.  Patients might also vomit fecal material.

Bowel obstructions are considered to be a medical emergency and require immediate attention. However, not all obstructions require surgery. Patients are often admitted to the hospital where they receive IV hydration. A nasal gastric tube is placed to remove stomach contents thus permitting the bowel to rest and inflammation to resolve on its own. Symptoms usually resolve 3-5 days following this intervention. In some cases it may be necessary to perform a surgical procedure to remove the mass or adhesion thus freeing the bowel to receive the necessary blood supply to remain healthy and functional. Patients with symptoms consistent with a bowel obstruction should contact their medical team immediately.

If a bowel obstruction is suspected, the patient will undergo a series of abdominal X-rays which can help diagnose an obstruction and determine if it is located in the large or small intestine.

Some symptoms of obstruction may lead to the diagnosis of an ileus, which is a functional obstruction caused by the absence of peristalsis, without a true blockage. It can be the result of narcotics or side-effect of some chemotherapeutic drugs or other administered medications. Sometimes medication to increase gastric motility can help in reversing this condition and surgery is usually not indicated in this situation. Patients are often discharged from the hospital with instructions to continue with regimens that will help to produce increased bowel evacuation.

For questions about treatment options, clinical trials, side-effect, or general support, patients are encouraged to contact Mary Hesdorffer, Nurse Practitioner. Ms. Hesdorffer is the executive director of the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation. She received her undergraduate degree at the College of New Rochelle in NY and went on to receive her Masters of Science at the same institution. She is fully credentialed as a nurse practitioner and has spent 16 years actively treating patients with mesothelioma.

Mary has an expertise in the development and implementation of clinical trials. She is published in peer-reviewed journals and has lectured nationally on topics pertaining to mesothelioma with particular emphasis on clinical trials as well as symptom and disease management.

Mary is a strong voice in urging increased transparency to the medical and legal issues surrounding mesothelioma with a strong emphasis on ethics.

She is passionate in her commitment to the treatment and management of this disease and hopes to increase awareness of the need to advance the science that will lead to a cure. She is available via phone or email to assist patients and caregivers as they regain control after being thrust into the chaos of this disease.

The Journey of a Mesothelioma Research Study

When patients and their families need help following a diagnosis or throughout treatment, the Meso Foundation is there for them – day or night.

Researcher

But getting patients and their families through the immediate treatment is only one side of tackling this disease. At the Meso Foundation, we believe that research into new treatments is fundamental to eradicating mesothelioma and the suffering caused by it. In fact, our mission statement emphasizes that the Foundation must “fund the highest quality and most promising meso research projects from around the world through rigorous peer review.”

Yesterday, the Meso Foundation released the important news that, this year, researchers from across the world submitted 48 proposals for funding (22 applications were from international applicants). In the next week, we will divide the number of submitted proposals among our Science Advisory Board (SAB) members and assign approximately 7 to 10 proposals to each reviewer, and 2 to 3 reviewers to each proposal.

Our SAB is made up of scientists and doctors from around the world, who have devoted their lifework to researching mesothelioma, making them the peers of our applicants, thus making our review a peer review.

We placed the adjective “rigorous” into the sentence describing our peer review, because it truly is.  The review process consists of scoring and critiquing each and every application submitted. Below are a few examples of the detailed questions each reviewer is asked when reviewing a proposal.

  • Does the project address an important problem or a critical barrier to progress in the field?
  • How will successful completion of the aims change the concepts, methods, technologies, treatments, services, or preventative interventions that drive this field?
  • Are the PD/PIs, collaborators, and other researchers well suited to the project?
  • Does the application challenge and seek to shift current research or clinical practice paradigms by utilizing novel theoretical concepts, approaches or methodologies, instrumentation, or interventions?
  • Are the overall strategy, methodology, and analyses well-reasoned and appropriate to accomplish the specific aims of the project?
  • Will the scientific environment in which the work will be done contribute to the probability of success?

The reviewers must then score each proposal according to these questions, on a scale of 9 to 1, with 1 being the highest possible score. In September, these scores will be collected and the proposals ranked accordingly. Only the top half of the total number of proposals will pass this stage and move to the next, where they will be scrutinized further in depth.

At this point, we select SAB members who are experts in the fields of those applicants whose projects have advanced. This ensures that the proposals are evaluated by someone who can speak to the plausibility and soundness of the hypothesis submitted, which, in turn, ensures that our funding be awarded to the most promising projects.

Following the second round, the proposals are once again scored and ranked. Based on this line-up, each remaining application is opened for discussion by the entire SAB. We hold a conference-call in November to facilitate this discussion and we come away with a solid list of top 10 projects. This list is presented in January to the Board of Directors, which selects proposals for funding. This decision is based on the critiques and ranking received from the SAB, and the financial capability of the Foundation.

At the end of this process, an approved application will have moved through three review cycles, be assessed by no less than 6 SAB members, be scrutinized by at least one expert within its specific field, and approved by the two governing bodies of the organization.

This is, no doubt, a relatively long and labor-intensive process, but it is a necessary one to make sure that the limited funds available for research are spent responsibly only on the most promising and the highest quality studies. As a nonprofit organization, we have an obligation to our patients, constituents and donors to make the most of their donations and support, and with this review model, we believe to fulfill and exceed all expectations.