Researchers in Hawaii Receive $3M to Study Biomarkers, Vaccines and Mutations in Malignant Mesothelioma

Researchers in Hawaii Receive $3M to Study Biomarkers, Vaccines and Mutations in Malignant Mesothelioma

Investigators at the University of Hawai‘i (UH) Cancer Center and its John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) have been awarded three grants by the United States Department of Defense (DoD) for research into malignant mesothelioma. The grants, totaling more than $3 million, will further research in a range of areas, from biomarkers for mesothelioma prediction, to gene mutations that increase disease risk and vaccine development.

“The UH Cancer Center is the only NCI-designated center in Hawai‘i or the Pacific, and access to these critical funds will help them continue the groundbreaking work the center does every day. As someone battling cancer myself, I have a strong appreciation for the dedicated researchers that are working toward a cure,” U.S. Rep. Mark Takai, who represents the 1st District in Hawaii, said in a news release. “With the increased funding provided to NIH [National Institutes of Health] last year by Congress, more of these grants will become available, and I look forward to working with UH to make sure they see their fair share.”

Dr. Haining Yang, a UH Cancer Center associate professor, and Dr. Michele Carbone, its director of thoracic oncology, received a three-year, $1.9 million Translational Team Science Award to advance their study, “HMGB1 and Its Isoforms as Biomarkers for Mineral Fiber Exposure and Mesothelioma Detection.” The research focuses on the discovery of biomarkers that will help predict the risk of developing mesothelioma, and lead to earlier detection of the malignancy.

These investigators also received a two-year, $600,000 Idea Award with Special Focus for the study, “Identification and Validation of Novel Germline DNA Variants Associated to Increased Risk of Malignant Mesothelioma,” which aims to identify novel genes that, when mutated, increase mesothelioma risk. Findings might lead to screening of susceptible individuals and to a more specific drug design.

Dr. Pietro Bertino, an assistant researcher at JABSOM, received a three-year, $550,000 Career Development Award for his study, “Preclinical Development of TVAX: An Advanced Multiantigen Vaccine for Therapy and Prevention of Malignant Mesothelioma.” Its main objective is the development of a vaccine against the cancer.

“The remarkable success of our Cancer Center and JABSOM researchers in obtaining these awards illustrates the role of the University of Hawai’i as leaders in mesothelioma research,” said David Lassner, president of the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. “This demonstrates our ability to reduce the burden of cancer locally, nationally and internationally.”

The three grants were among 45 announced by the DoD to promote cancer research and career development.

Exposure to asbestos, a group of minerals that occurs naturally as fiber bundles in soil and rocks, is the leading cause of malignant mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer that starts in the specialized cells that line body organs and structures. Millions of people who served in the military forces are thought to have been exposed to asbestos, as its heat- and fire-resistant properties made it a popular insulator used for decades in ships, planes, and other military equipment.

According to the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance, some studies suggest that as many as 30 percent of all Americans with mesothelioma cancer are veterans who were exposed to asbestos during their years of military service.


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