Santa Barbara, CT—Mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer that is nearly exclusively linked to asbestos exposure, has been a particular concern for United States military veterans, due to the widespread use of asbestos as insulation on Navy vessels, military vehicles and in other capacities. In fact, the military once even mandated the use of asbestos. Mesothelioma has a long latency period, which means that veterans of World War II and the Korean and Vietnam Wars may only now be receiving diagnoses of this terrible disease, despite the fact that their exposure happened decades ago. Despite the high percentage of veterans who are diagnosed with mesothelioma, the Department of Defense has been somewhat lax in funneling research dollars to those who are seeking better diagnosis and treatment methods, as well as a cure. The Department of Defense has been responsible for promoting research on military service-related diseases since 1992, funding over $5.4 billion worth of clinical studies and laboratory research.
Yet mesothelioma researchers did not receive any funds until the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee directed the DoD to add mesothelioma to its Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program, some 15 years later. In 2008, the Department of Defense awarded a grant to Courtney Broaddus, M.D., to support her efforts to understand the role of macrophage induced inflammation in mesothelioma. This year, the DoD has announced that further awards, totaling several million dollars, will help fund the work of three mesothelioma researchers. Harvey Pass, M.D, and Margaret E. Huflejt, PhD., will explore new markers for the detection of mesothelioma at earlier stages and will identify new therapeutic targets. Lee Krug, M.D., is slated to lead a multi-site clinical trial of a new vaccine-based therapy that has shown great promise. Mesothelioma strikes approximately 3,000 new patients each year in the United States, and equally significant numbers in other nations. It is currently considered incurable, and generally comes with a grim prognosis due to the fact that it is usually not detected until it has reached late stages. The majority of patients have a life expectancy of under two years, with most succumbing to the disease in just a few months.