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Our mesothelioma research

Mesothelioma is a cancer that mainly affects the lining of the lungs. It's vital that we research mesothelioma so we can better understand the disease, and help people live longer. 

Mesothelioma in numbers

29 blue silhouettes

new cases of mesothelioma in the UK per year.

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lungs blue outline infographic

deaths from mesothelioma in the UK per year.

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£ 10,800,000

total spent funding mesothelioma research. 

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Aim of our mesothelioma research

Our mesothelioma research aims to tackle the disease from many different angles. We’re looking at:

  • understanding what mutations and genetic changes drive the disease
  • enhancing the effectiveness of existing treatments
  • pioneering new and better treatments
  • providing better care for people living with the disease

We hope to see our researchers follow the success seen in many other cancer types in the next few years.

Mesothelioma research network (MRN)

So that people with mesothelioma can live longer and with a better quality of life, we’ve set up a mesothelioma research network (MRN). The idea behind the MRN is to bring researchers working in the disease together, to share ideas, and help each other to get better results faster. So great research ideas can translate more quickly into new diagnostics and treatments for people with mesothelioma.

We received a £5 million gift from the Victor Dahdaleh Foundation to support mesothelioma research. Part of the donation was to bring the mesothelioma research community together by creating the MRN.

Find our more about the MRN

Mesothelioma research projects

Here are some of the mesothelioma research projects we've funded:

Treating malignant mesothelioma with stem cells

Dr Elizabeth Sage’s research looked at using modified stem cells to treat mesothelioma. 

Mesenchymal stem cells (cells found in the bone marrow of adults – also known as MSCs)  can travel to sites of cancer and form part of its structure. These cells can be altered to carry a treatment called TRAIL (a protein produced naturally by most normal tissue cells), which kills cancer cells. These modified cells are called MSCTRAIL.

Dr Sage placed MSCTRAILs in a dish with mesothelioma cells, and added an antibiotic to some of them to ‘switch on’ TRAIL. 15-60% of mesothelioma cells were dead or dying after being exposed to MSCTRAIL treatment for 48 hours. Mouse models of mesothelioma were then split into three treatment groups: salt water; MSCs not altered to carry TRAIL; and MSCTRAIL.

Tumours in the mice receiving MSCTRAIL reduced significantly over 21 days. It was also discovered that combining MSCTRAIL with new chemotherapy drugs could reduce tumours further. 

We have been awarded funding from the Medical Research Council to set up the first clinical trial testing MSCTRAIL in patients with advanced lung cancer. I will continue the work started in this project, aiming to find the best chemotherapy to use in combination with MSCTRAIL.Dr Elizabeth Sage

Helping immune cells kill cancer cells in mesothelioma

The last few years brought a huge increase in our knowledge of the genetics of mesothelioma, together with a breakthrough in harnessing the immune system against cancer. The latter, called immunotherapy, aims to empower the immune system to kill cancer cells but not healthy cells. This is achieved by 'taking the brake off' the immune cells which fight cancer cells. The treatment is currently undergoing clinical trials in mesothelioma in combination with other treatments to provide the best support for the immune response. However, clinical trials may take years to complete before new treatments can be offered to all patients. 

As each patient’s tumour is different, Dr Tabi’s research is proposing to develop a laboratory based model that will provide rapid information not only about the genetic but also the immunological makeup of the tumour of each patient participating in the study. This complex screening has not been carried out in mesothelioma before. They will then test a range of treatments alone and in combination in the laboratory, in order to maximise the effect of immune therapies on an individual basis. This approach will provide information about what treatment combination is the best to support immunotherapy in individuals with a certain genetic and immune tumour type. 

The model will consist of growing very small pieces of tumour (obtained from surgical samples) in tissue culture conditions for a short period (up to a week). A range of treatments will be applied to these tumour pieces. They'll be testing what treatment – in combination with immunotherapy – provides the best support for the immune cells to kill cancer cells. If a treatment response pattern, based on the genetic and immune features of the tumour, can be observed, it will be applied to matching individual patients to the most appropriate individual treatment combinations. 


Previous studies have shown that unless you have a properly functioning immune system, simply irradiating a tumour doesn’t work. That’s where our complex 3D model comes in, allowing us to test combinations of drug and immune cell or radiation treatment, and speeding up pre-clinical trial testing time. Dr Zsuzsanna Tabi

Establishing a UK-wide mesothelioma tissue and blood sample bank: MesobanK 

One difficulty that researchers face is obtaining samples of tissue for experiments. Dr Rintoul and his team at Royal Papworth Hospital have established the first national mesothelioma tissue bank - MesobanK. MesobanK provides researchers with quick access to the tissue, blood samples, cells and anonymised clinical data they need for ground-breaking research into treating mesothelioma.

The MesobanK project is really building up and taking off. The idea is that researchers working on a mesothelioma study anywhere in the world can use MesobanK. It’s helping to accelerate research and develop a better understanding of the disease so we can tackle this cancer successfully.

This project is jointly funded by the Mick Knighton Mesothelioma Research Fund and the Victor Phillip Dahdaleh Charitable Foundation.

We hope that if we can demonstrate that this resource is available, researchers in laboratories who have never studied mesothelioma because of a lack of tissue and data will be persuaded to apply the work that they are doing on other cancers to mesothelioma as well. Dr Robert Rintoul

Mesothelioma patrons

Our mesothelioma patrons have all made generous donations to our mesothelioma research fund. All of our patrons have direct experiences of the effects of mesothelioma or asbestos and are working with us to improve the lives of those with mesothelioma and help prevent future cases.

Find out more about our mesothelioma patrons

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