Mesothelioma Treatment Threatened by Pressures on University Research Systems

Female researcher examines flask with blue fluid

Advancements in mesothelioma treatment and that of other cancers — advances that routinely occur in university cancer centers — are being jeopardized by a number of challenges within these university communities.

A report compiled by a group of 25 research universities called the Research Universities Futures Consortium identified growing internal and external pressures that threaten the livelihood of all American research institutions. These pressures in turn threaten the progress of cancer research there.

Among the bigger concerns:

  • Decreasing federal funding
  • Diminishing endowments
  • Increasing tuition expenses
  • Growing compliance concerns
  • Increasing international competition
  • A lack of public confidence

All of the factors pose a hazard to the research institutions that comprise the core of mesothelioma treatments and therapies, according to the consortium, because they hinder researchers’ ability to increase resources and efforts for better cancer treatment.

The University of Hawaii, University of Pennsylvania, the University of Chicago, the University of Texas and UCLA are all research-heavy universities known for their premier mesothelioma cancer centers and research facilities.

The consortium suggested that the future of these institutions is uncertain.

Mesothelioma’s Dependence on University Research

Much of the progress of mesothelioma treatment is gained from university research programs. With only approximately 3,000 Americans annually being diagnosed with this cancer, it’s unreasonable to expect all medical research schools to focus on it.

However, the schools that do dial in on mesothelioma establish themselves as hubs for mesothelioma treatment — areas of specialization for research, clinical trials, treatment and discussion.

Advancements in gene therapy, surgery techniques and other treatment options frequently stem from these research institutions, and the cancer centers there are often deemed the best places for a patient to go after receiving a mesothelioma diagnosis.

For example, the University of Hawaii was recently lauded for discovering a potential identifier of individual’s increased risk of developing mesothelioma. The discovery could lead to earlier diagnoses and treatments.

University research programs that focus on mesothelioma receive significant resources from government grants and funding, allowing them to develop breakthrough treatments. These systems are likely to be the development facilities for a mesothelioma cure.

“Without research universities, progress in better treatment and a cure for mesothelioma will become stagnant,” said Karen Selby, a nurse and patient advocate with The Mesothelioma Center.

A breakdown in the stability of research institutions could result in slowed progress and development for mesothelioma cures and treatments.

“Research will always be the key to controlling asbestos-related cancers,” said Robert Kratzke, M.D., associate professor at the University of Minnesota’s Department of Medicine.

The Consortium’s Study

The consortium’s study had goals of broadly analyzing the landscape of university research, identifying any challenges experienced by these universities and determining how the schools intend on solving these problems. Dr. Brad Fenwick, the professor and former vice chancellor for research and engagement at the University of Tennessee, led the study.

By gaining an understanding of shared challenges, researchers hoped to find underlying causes and then solutions that are applicable to all research programs.

After more than one year of in-depth analysis and after speaking with individuals who are directly involved in the day-to-day operations of these programs, the consortium identified larger threats to the research of mesothelioma and other cancers treated within university centers.

The study categorized the issues into six broad themes:

  1. Limited resources relative to demand because of competition
  2. Increasing regulation and compliance
  3. A need for standardized metrics by institutions and stakeholders
  4. A growing need for increased and enhanced data through planning
  5. Inadequate story-telling by staff and stakeholders about the real value of university research to the larger society
  6. A lack of understanding and appreciation by university stakeholders about the need for proper staffing and support

For example, one inhibitor of progress is the lack of communication by research community members about the value of its work. This diminished external communication reduces awareness, access to resources and overall support for these institutions that need it.

Says former University of California President Clark Kerr in the report: “We are just now perceiving that the university’s invisible product, knowledge, may be the most powerful single element in our culture, affecting the rise and fall of professions and social classes regions, and even nations.”

25 University Participants

The consortium produced the report after conducting multiple interviews during 2011 and 2012 with specific research universities that agreed to participate in the study, both private and public institutions. An interview format was utilized because it created open dialog and didn’t limit explanation of responses. Researcher adding samples to vials

Twenty-five universities participated, each which gathered members of its program staff, administrators along with any member of the research programs within the institution.

These universities include Arizona State University, Carnegie Mellon University, Colorado State University, Duke University, Florida State University and Georgia Tech, among others.

More than $9 billion in annual research expenditures is controlled by the participating members of the Research Universities Futures Consortium.

Next Up Are Solutions

Members of the consortium set out not to highlight problems within the research community but to identify solutions for progress towards a survival of these critical programs.

Now comes the solutions stage. Specifics are not identified fully, and a follow-up report is anticipated.

“Our next step is to focus our attention on the development of realistic and sustainable solutions,” Fenwick said. “We look forward to joining forces with the National Research Council and their study on the same topic.”

Within the mesothelioma community, this research battle is magnified by the reality that the rarity of the disease means built-in limitations that may need to be addressed beyond the scope of this report.

Much of the research and funding is facilitated through government grants but significant resources are also provided by awareness groups, including the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation, Lungevity Foundation, American Cancer Society and the Mesothelioma Center.

A mesothelioma cure may not be visible in the immediate future yet these organizations and research institutions move one step closer each day. Their survival equates to the survival for future mesothelioma patients and victims of over cancers.


Mark Hall joined the Mesothelioma Center as a writer in 2011. Prior to joining the content team, Mark graduated from the University of Florida and then spent several years writing about business, entrepreneurship and technology for various online publications.

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