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What happened at the 2019 MRN research day?

Every year, 2,700 people are diagnosed with mesothelioma. That’s why we set up the Mesothelioma Research Network. Cheryl from our research team provided us with an update after its second annual research day.

What is the Mesothelioma Research Network?

We created the Mesothelioma Research Network (MRN) in October 2017 to bring together researchers working on mesothelioma. It was set up to help them share ideas and support each other to get better results, faster.

We hope it will mean that researchers' great ideas can be more quickly translated into new ways of diagnosing and treating people with mesothelioma.

Last year we launched our first MRN research day, with over 85 researchers from across the country in attendance to discuss mesothelioma research. This year saw over 100 researchers and health care professionals take part.

PhD student Garima Tyagi shows off her work on the repurposing of a drug for the treatment of malignant pleural mesothelioma.

How can we improve patient care?

One of the day's key themes focused on improving patient care. The day opened with Dr Anna Bibby giving a description of how patients with mesothelioma symptoms are cared for, what test they may have and how to best give a diagnosis of mesothelioma. Anna highlighted that no two people with mesothelioma are the same and that each patient should be given the confidence to make their own decisions about the care they receive. 

We next heard from Simon Clark, who lives with mesothelioma. He was diagnosed after being exposed to asbestos through his job as an electrical engineer. He found living with mesothelioma a lonely place to be and has benefited from the advice offered by patient support groups. Despite his condition, he remains positive about the amount of research that is going on into new treatments for mesothelioma, giving him and the thousands of people living with mesothelioma hope for the future.

We also heard about the use of new technologies to improve treatment for people with mesothelioma. Dr Fairen-Jimenez talked about how he has developed new ways of delivering drugs to treat mesothelioma by engineering new molecules called ‘metal-organic frameworks’ or MOFs for short. MOFs could revolutionise treatment for mesothelioma by carrying higher doses of anti-cancer drugs in the body, as well as controlling their release so that the drug is directly targeted towards tumour cells. 

Last, but not least, Dr Naomi Klepacz told us about a recently completed trial for people with mesothelioma, during which they recorded their symptoms every day on a mobile phone app. If they were worried about anything, a doctor or nurse contacted them to give advice to manage the symptoms. This app could help reduce isolation amongst people with mesothelioma by giving them a direct line of communication to their doctor or nurse, as well as giving their doctor or nurse regular updates on their patient’s condition. 

Simon Clark shares his experience of living with mesothelioma.

Learning to understand mesothelioma better

The second session looked at how researchers who work in the laboratory could study mesothelioma in models. These models can be created from cells or tissues from patients, or in animals such as mice. By using these models, researchers can study human diseases outside of the human body. 

The aim of the session was to share how researchers could best use models to improve their experiments. Models can help scientists understand what mesothelioma tumours look like and allow them to test the effects of potential treatments before putting them forward for full clinical trials.

Additionally, the last session of the morning looked at how we can better understand mesothelioma. It included a talk from Professor Karen Brown on how we can potentially prevent mesothelioma occurring in those that have been exposed to asbestos.

She is looking at using drugs already used for other disease or dietary supplements like zinc to do this. We also learnt about the different stages that are necessary for developing drugs from Professor Tariq Sethi, who works at AstraZeneca.

Professor Karen Brown explains how compounds from some over-the-counter drugs could be used to help prevent mesothelioma.

Clinical trials for mesothelioma

We were lucky to have a talk from a very respected researcher from France – Professor Arnaud Scherpereel. Arnaud has led clinical trials using immunotherapy to treat mesothelioma.

Immunotherapy is a type of treatment that alerts the body’s immune system to tumours, which usually manage to hide. Once the tumour is revealed, the immune system can attack it. There are lots of trials going on using this treatment for other types of cancer and researchers want to demonstrate that it is effective in mesothelioma.

In the afternoon, we heard about the latest about the MARS2 trial, which compares surgery and chemotherapy versus chemotherapy alone for treating mesothelioma. We also heard about the DIAPHRAGM trial, which is trying to identify better ways to diagnose mesothelioma and to track how people with the condition are doing over time.

After that, Professor Dean Fennell told us about the UK trials happening for immunotherapy and chemotherapy, and there are lots! Finally, in this session we heard about radiotherapy trials. There were less of these – most of them looked at if radiotherapy can help reduce pain. But another UK trial combining radiotherapy and immunotherapy is in development.

A slide about metal-organic frameworks showed at the 2019 MRN research day
Metal-organic frameworks are a new type of molecule which could be used for drug delivery in mesothelioma.

MRN research day 2020

We would like to thank all the researchers, health care professionals and supporters who made this a successful meeting. The day was full of interesting discussion and I am now looking forward to our third annual research day is scheduled to take place in 2020.

The key message that I will take from this year’s MRN research day is there is ‘hope’. The more research we do, the closer we can get to giving people with mesothelioma more time with loved ones. 

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Cheryl Lenny

Cheryl Lenny

Cheryl is the research networks and partnerships manager at BLF. Her background is in biology. Cheryl has worked managing research programmes and professional networks for a few charities.

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26 June 2019