Mesothelioma Genetic Research Team Receives $2.6M Grant from NIH
The National Institutes of Health awarded his research team a five-year, $2.6 million grant last month to continue its work linking the BAP1 gene mutation to the development of mesothelioma cancer.
It may hold the key to an eventual cure.
“This [grant] moves us in the right direction. There is reason to be hopeful,” Carbone told The Mesothelioma Center at Asbestos.com. “There is one thing left to do, develop the resources to cure this horrible cancer. That’s the goal.”
UH a Leader in Mesothelioma Research
The University of Hawaii Cancer Center is the leader in U.S. federal funding for mesothelioma research, much of it stemming from the work of Carbone and co-leader Dr. Haining Yang.
Their team was the first to uncover the genetic link to mesothelioma, identifying the BAP1 mutation almost a decade ago.
It remains the only mutation proven to have a direct tie to the cancer.
Researchers also believe that same mutation holds the key to future developments in early detection, prevention and treatment for mesothelioma.
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Mutation Can Play Positive and Negative Roles
Through earlier research, doctors have proven that the mutation greatly increases a person’s susceptibility to environmental carcinogens, such as asbestos, and increases the risk of developing mesothelioma.
They also found that the mutation impairs the growth of the mesothelioma tumor cells, allowing patients to survive considerably longer than those without the mutation.
“It’s a double-edge sword. You can look at it two ways,” Carbone said. “It’s bad to be born with it, but on the other hand, if you have cancer, it’s good to have. Those with the mutation do much better. The cancer is much less aggressive.”
Carbone believes both effects — increased susceptibility and longer survival — are linked to the way the mutation regulates cancer cell metabolism.
A person can either be born with the mutation — often inherited — or it can develop on its own.
“The grant will be used to investigate ways in which BAP1 regulates cancer cell metabolism,” Carbone said. “Why do these patients do better? Why do these patients [with the mutation], fight cancer so much more effectively than anyone else?”
Converting Research into Lives Saved
Carbone believes what they find can help provide a better target for therapy, along with preventing the disease in those who are more susceptible.
One of his earlier studies showed a median survival of five years for mesothelioma patients with the BAP1 mutation, compared to less than a year for those without the mutation. The five-year survival with the mutation was 47%.
He believes further research will lead to a group of mesothelioma patients who will survive indefinitely, eventually dying from some other cause.
“Until recently, people with mesothelioma were told they had a year to live, but there were always some who did considerably better. Now we know who they are [those with the mutation] and why they did better,” he said. “In the past, we took a blind approach to understanding the disease and its mechanisms. We’re making progress now.”
Much of what they have learned, he believes, can be transferred to other cancers, too.
“Our goal is to save as many lives as possible,” he said. “By learning how BAP1 mutations slow down the growth of mesothelioma, we find a way to make all cancers less aggressive.”
The grant from the National Institutes of Health is just the latest for the University of Hawaii Cancer Center, adding to its role as a leader in mesothelioma research.
The U.S. Department of Defense awarded three multiyear grants totally $3 million in 2016 to advance its studies of mesothelioma, which affects a disproportionate amount of veterans.
The NIH also awarded a five-year, $2 million grant in 2015.
“We’re proud of the work we do,” Carbone said. “And our track record is good.”