Starting on May 2, 2018, a remarkable group of people will gather in Ottawa, Canada: the International Mesothelioma Interest Group. The group is made up of medical researchers, oncologist, doctors, and advocates bound together by their interest in advancing knowledge about mesothelioma tumors and mesothelioma treatment.
Steven Kazan, Founding, Senior and Managing Partner of Kazan Law, which sponsors the Mesothelioma Circle blog to share information with mesothelioma patients and their families, is also one of the sponsors of the biannual meeting of the International Mesothelioma Interest Group (iMig). The meeting brings together a community of dedicated mesothelioma scientists who want to collaborate to find better treatments and, someday, a cure for mesothelioma. Kazan Law has a rich history in support of iMig as sponsors and as participants at conferences beginning in 2006 in the United States (Chicago), moving into the Netherlands (Amsterdam) in 2008, venturing to Japan (Kyoto) in 2010, back to the United States (Boston) in 2012, down to South Africa (Capetown) in 2014, across the Atlantic to the UK (Birmingham) in 2016, and now this year up to Canada (Ottawa).
History of the International Mesothelioma Interest Group
The beginning of the International Mesothelioma Interest Group starts like the beginning of a proverbial joke: two scientists walk into a café. What comes next is no laughing matter for the mesothelioma community.
Scientists Bruce Robinson and Marie-Claude Jaurand were in Paris for a conference on mesothelioma, a rare but deadly form of cancer caused by asbestos exposure. Over coffee and croissants, they lamented the fact that most of the scientific study of mesothelioma until that point was directed at the causes of the disease. They wanted to foster scientific cross-pollination to understand this cancer and point the way to better outcomes for mesothelioma patients.
Robinson and Jaurand proposed an informal group of researchers for the purpose of sharing information and resources. They hoped it would encourage collaboration among the scientists who worked to unlock the secrets of this cancer of the mesothelial tissues. By the end of their conference, the International Mesothelioma Interest Group was born.
The 2018 Ottawa meeting with be the 14th gathering of the International Mesothelioma Interest Group.
Kazan Law Sponsors International Mesothelioma Interest Group Young Investigator Awards
Kazan Law has represented mesothelioma patients and their families since 1974. The members of the firm have been personally touched by the loss and grief suffered by mesothelioma families. That’s why they formed the Kazan, McClain Partners’ Foundation, Inc. Over the years, the foundation has donated over $20 million to numerous groups, including many that support mesothelioma families.
Donations from the foundation include more than $6 million to directly fund research to advance the treatment of mesothelioma. These grants also include sponsorship of the Young Investigator Awards at the International Mesothelioma Interest Group conference.
The Young Investigator Awards recognize ground-breaking research conducted by up-and-coming scientific minds. The awards are given to researchers around the globe who work to advance our understanding of mesothelioma.
In 2016, scientists from the United Kingdom, Australia, Belgium, Italy, and the Netherlands were recognized with these awards. Their studies represent many of the exciting avenues of current mesothelioma research.
Two of the 2016 awards went to scientists studying the relationship of microRNA to mesothelioma. MicroRNA regulates the expression of genes and sometimes serves to silence RNA.
Marissa Williams of Australia’s Asbestos Disease Research Institute found that lowered levels of microRNA correspond to increased activity of the PD-L1 protein, which is often a critical factor that allows cancer cells to grow unchecked. This protein helps regulate programmed cell death, an important part of the cycle of life that goes on in all our bodies. When cells live past their programmed death, they can grow into tumors. One of the hallmarks of cancer cells is that they live and reproduce for much longer than normal cells, wreaking havoc with the body’s natural processes. Williams’ theory is that therapy to increase microRNA levels could reduce the expression of the PD-L1 protein and give the immune system a fighting chance to kill off mesothelioma cells.
Hannah Moody of the University of Hull and Hull York Medical School in the United Kingdom studied the effect of a specific microRNA, miR-31, on sensitivity to chemotherapy. This delicate microRNA is often missing in pleural mesothelioma tumors. By adding miR-31 back into these tumors, she and her team hope to increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy treatments for mesothelioma patients.
The other Young Investigator Award winners, like Williams and Moody, followed the trend in current cancer research and studied various genetic and molecular markers that could affect mesothelioma risks and treatments.
The 2018 meeting of the International Mesothelioma Interest Group promises to highlight another exciting crop of young mesothelioma researchers. Kazan Law will be there to support them as they work to improve outcomes for mesothelioma patients.
Advances in Mesothelioma Research Thanks to International Mesothelioma Interest Group Members
The young scientists aren’t the only ones bringing fresh ideas and perspectives to iMig.The group brings together some of the top mesothelioma researchers in the world.
Members of iMig and their research teams have played a part in many notable advances in mesothelioma research. These include:
- The role of mutations in the BAP1 gene in susceptibility to mesothelioma. Only a fraction of people who were exposed to asbestos develop mesothelioma later in life. Scientists have searched for clues as to why some fall prey to this deadly cancer while others remain healthy. Dr. Joseph R. Testa’s discovery of the role of BAP1 mutations could eventually lead to pre-screening, early diagnosis, and perhaps even preventative treatment.
- Resistance to chemotherapy in mesothelioma tumors. This research came out of the University of California San Francisco, an institution which the Kazan, McClain Partners’ Foundation has supported because of its outstanding research on mesothelioma. Chemoresistance happens when a cancerous tumor doesn’t respond or stops responding to chemotherapy treatment. Dr. V. Courtney Broaddus brought fresh modeling techniques to study this problem in mesothelioma tumors. Reducing chemoresistance can make existing treatments more effective at reducing the size of tumors and preventing spread of the cancer.
- Development of immunotherapy treatments targeting mesothelin. Mesothelin is a protein found in mesothelial cells, where mesothelioma tumors form. Several types of cancer cells have been found to have extra mesothelin, including mesothelioma. Dr. Raffit Hassan of the National Cancer Institute has tested a treatment that reduces mesothelin with good results. This line of research could eventually lead to vaccines for certain types of cancer.
This is just a sampling; the list of iMig scientists’ accomplishments is long and encompasses most of the important developments in mesothelioma research. That’s why Kazan Law is proud to support this group of dedicated scientists.
Today, mesothelioma is an incurable cancer with a poor prognosis. Immunotherapy treatments have already increased survival time for some mesothelioma patients. The work of the researchers of the International Mesothelioma Interest Group moves us ever closer to finding cures, and perhaps even preventative treatments, for mesothelioma.