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University of Hawaii receives $3.58 million for mesothelioma research

One of the world’s foremost experts on mesothelioma will advance his study of the deadly disease, thanks to a $3.58 million gift to the University of Hawaii Cancer Center.


The gift from an anonymous donor will support research by the center’s director, Michele Carbone, whose team has made several important discoveries related to mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer of the cells that line the chest and abdominal cavities


A rare disease caused by exposure to asbestos, mesothelioma kills 2,000-3,000 Americans each year. Heath officials estimate that 27 million American workers were exposed to asbestos between 1949 and 1979, and they predict that global mortality rates will increase by 5-10 percent annually until about 2020.


Virginia Hinshaw, chancellor of the University of Hawaii Manoa, said the gift validates Carbone’s reputation as a leader in thoracic oncology research. "Mesothelioma is a serious public health problem," Hinshaw said. "We're proud that Dr. Carbone's team is leading the world in this area of discovery."


Carbone and his team have been investigating evidence that asbestos exposure triggers the secretion of a protein, HMGB1, which causes the healthy mesothelial cell to mutate into a malignant cancer cell. With a grant from the National Cancer Institute, Carbone hopes to determine whether inhibiting HMGB1 can prevent the secretion of inflammatory molecules and prevent or delay the onset of mesothelioma.


Carbone is also part of a team that includes researchers from Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia that is exploring whether people who have a mutation in the BAP1 gene are at greater risk of developing mesothelioma and other cancers.


Since 1997, Carbone has conducted research on the dangers of erionite, a naturally occurring mineral similar to asbestos. In 2007, he reported that mesothelioma caused by erionite exposure was responsible for more than half the deaths in several villages in Cappadocia, Turkey, where the mineral was used to build homes.


Carbone and his team have recently discovered high levels of erionite in the gravel used to pave more than 300 miles of roads in North Dakota. As a result, intervention and preventive measures developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are being adopted to reduce exposure and screen cohorts at risk of mesothelioma.


Carbone is currently leading the first study of the hazards of erionite in the United States. The research is focused on Dunn County, N.D., where more than 300 miles of roads have been surfaced with erionite-containing gravel since the 1980s. The findings, which are pending publication, prompted EPA officials to collect and analyze samples to determine the risk posed by the gravel. The National Institutes of Health has planned a conference to discuss the potential health dangers of erionite exposure.


"This generous gift is critical to support our efforts to generate discoveries that will aid in the prevention of mesothelioma and the development of new therapies," Carbone said.