Battling a deadly cancer

Mesothelioma Cells
Mesothelioma (cells featured in picture above) line the chest and abdominal cavities. It is one of the most aggressive and difficult cancers to treat.
A generous gift to the UH Cancer Center is helping researchers uncover clues to one of the world’s deadliest cancer. Mesothelioma, whose cells line the chest and abdominal cavities, is also one of the most aggressive and difficult cancers to treat. The current median survival from diagnosis is just 12 months.

Prevention and early intervention are soon to become a reality, thanks to a $3.58 million gift to the UH Cancer Center from an anonymous donor to support the mesothelioma research of Director Michele Carbone. He and colleagues, who include Drs. Haining Yang and Giovanni Gaudino, have made a series of recent scientific breakthroughs that will lead to new ways to prevent and treat the disease. “This generous gift is critical to support our efforts to generate discoveries that will aid in the prevention of mesothelioma and the development of more effective therapies,” acknowledges Dr. Carbone.

He has studied mesothelioma for more than a decade, with significant findings having come from studies conducted in the villages of Capadoccia, a region of Turkey. Dubbed “death villages,” nearly 50 percent of the area’s residents develop and die of mesothelioma. The epidemic is caused by exposure to a mineral fiber called erionite, which is even more potent than asbestos in causing mesothelioma. Erionite is a naturally occurring mineral found in rock formations and homes built of rock material in the region. The team’s findings led to a response from the Turkish government that included building the villagers new homes and a regional health center to conduct screening and treatment for mesothelioma.

Dr. Carbone and collaborators will conduct a clinical trial co-sponsored by the Early Detection Research Network of the U.S. National Cancer Institute and the Turkish Ministry of Health to validate serum biomarkers they discovered for the early detection of mesothelioma.

This past winter, Carbone reported new findings describing potential erionite exposure in the U.S. (Nature, Dec. 16, 2010). Collaborating with scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institutes of Health, they found evidence of erionite in rock materials used to pave roads in North Dakota and other states. Public health concerns have been raised and the team’s examination continues in partnership with the EPA. Findings from a new detailed study were presented at a recent scientific meeting and have been published in the July 25, 2011 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a leading scientific journal. The National Institutes of Health has planned a conference this fall to discuss potential public health issues related to erionite exposure.

The UH Cancer Center is currently constructing a world-class research facility in Honolulu, scheduled to open in early 2013. It has launched efforts to raise private support for the development and expansion of its research expertise and programs.

To learn more about the UH Cancer Center, visit

Top photo: Dr. Michele Carbone, director of the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii, has studied mesothelioma for more than 14 years.