Michele Carbone M.D., PhD., was awarded the first Landon Foundation-AACR INNOVATOR Award for International Collaboration. This award is given to those who work on an international level in their cancer research. The professor and chairman of the Department of Pathology at the University of Hawaii was given the award for his team’s work in examining mesothelioma of epidemic proportions in villages in Turkey. Awards were presented at a ceremony on January 23, 2009 at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. Carbone’s multinational team discovered that there were three villages in Turkey with higher than expected rates of mesothelioma. This disease is a cancer of the mesothelium cells that line the lungs. These help to reduce friction between the lungs and the pleural cavity. The only known cause of mesothelioma was exposure to asbestos through prolonged inhalation, but Carbone and his team discovered another cause for this cancer.
They found that those suffering from mesothelioma in the villages were exposed to a naturally occurring substance in the rock used in their homes’ construction, erionite. When it was found that erionite could cause cancer, Carbone’s team began to wonder why the entire population of the three villages was not struck down by mesothelioma. Their research uncovered a genetic predisposition toward developing mesothelioma in an environment prime for the disease. The results of Carbone’s work has been made available to other researchers who have begun to apply the finding in other geographic areas of concentrated mesothelioma cases. The award given to Professor Carbone was the largest of its kind available to cancer researchers. Use for the $100,000 award by Carbone and his team was not immediately made known to the public, but continued study into mesothelioma and its causes is a possibility for the chair of the Department of Pathology at the University of Hawaii.