The latest on the fight against mesothelioma
Every year, 2,700 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma in the UK. That's why we've given £6.5m to researching the condition. Here's what happened on our Mesothelioma Research Network's first-ever research day, as told by Cheryl from our research team.
I was delighted to organise the British Lung Foundation's first research day on a sunny June day in London. We welcomed 85 researchers from across the country and I heard talks from scientists working on meso research. Here's what I learned.
Where should we look for advice to improve care?
The British Thoracic Society has new guidelines outlining the best way to care for people with mesothelioma. Professor Nick Maskell explained how experts had sifted through a huge amount of research results to write the guidelines. He also told the researchers in the audience what the ideal ‘pathway of clinical care’ for people with mesothelioma should look like.
I also heard from Dr Paul Beckett who presented findings from the National Lung Cancer audit mesothelioma report. The report is based on information submitted by hospitals all over the country about how they care for people with mesothelioma. Worryingly, the report showed that the care someone with mesothelioma gets can depend on where they live in the UK. Dr Beckett urged those at the event to work to make sure everyone receives the same good level of care.
What people with mesothelioma have to say about research
One of the best places to turn when looking for ways to improve care is to hear from people who have mesothelioma themselves, like Dave Staley. Dave was diagnosed at the age of 39, and following his recent surgery, there's no sign of the mesothelioma returning. He gave a talk on the day which reminded us all how important research is for people diagnosed with mesothelioma.
I also listened to a talk from one of our early career researchers, Beth Taylor. Dr Taylor asked patients who took part in the MARS-2 clinical trial about their experience. This trial compared surgery and chemotherapy with chemotherapy alone for treating mesothelioma. Her research showed that health care professionals could better explain to patients how clinical trials work.
Understanding better how mesothelioma develops to find treatments
Exposure to asbestos dust can cause changes in the lungs, which can then lead to mesothelioma. But we’re still working out exactly how this happens.
I heard from Professor Marion MacFarlane on how her team is investigating if breathing other materials similar to asbestos, like long and thin carbon nanotubes (found in brake pads) has the same effects on the lungs as asbestos.
Genetics expert, Professor William Cookson, leads a group of researchers at Imperial College who are trying to find out what genes could be important in mesothelioma. He explained how a number of genes have been identified, but there be more they can find by working with other research teams around the world.
Understanding BAP-1 can potentially help these researchers identify new treatments.
One gene that is absent in a lot of mesothelioma tumours is BAP-1. The BAP-1 gene tells the body to make the 'BAP-1 protein', which has an important role in cells, helping them grow and divide. We heard from several researchers who are interested in understanding how the BAP-1 gene and protein work, and their role in mesothelioma. Understanding this can potentially help these researchers identify new treatments.
Early and accurate diagnosis is crucial
It’s important to be diagnosed as soon as possible, so you can begin your treatment plan, but some ways of being diagnosed are more effective than others.
Dr Kevin Blyth gave a summary of the best ways to diagnose mesothelioma. He talked about the research to find an easier way to diagnose someone without taking a lung biopsy, like a blood test. Dr Blyth’s own research includes trying to find molecules that help determine how ‘aggressive’ somebody’s mesothelioma will be and what treatment options may be best for them.
People living with mesothelioma can sometimes develop pleural effusions, where fluid fills the space between the lungs and the chest cavity. I heard from Dr Rahul Bhatnagar on why the effusions develop, and the best way to treat them according to the latest research.
New ways to fight mesothelioma
There could be a way to fight mesothelioma using the body’s immune system, according to Dr John Maher. He explained how the cancer 'hides' from the immune system, but that there are new immunotherapies being tested that could ‘wake up’ the immune system so they see the tumour cells and attack them.
Research is the one hope we have of finding better treatments and, ultimately, a cure for mesothelioma.
We could try to starve the tumour cells, which is something that Dr Peter Szlosarek is researching. Tumours rely on an amino acid called ‘arginine’. He’s investigating how a treatment called ADI-PEG20 reduces the amount of arginine in the blood, which could be an efficient way of targeting cancer cells.
It was a fascinating day. It was great to see people coming together to share their knowledge and learn about meso research. Research is the one hope we have of finding better treatments and, ultimately, a cure for mesothelioma. This event was one small step in making that happen.
MKMRF: Mick Knighton Mesothelioma Research Fund
MKMRF raises awareness and funds crucial research projects for mesothelioma.