The future of the National Mesothelioma Virtual Tissue Bank is in jeopardy after its federal funding was eliminated earlier this year, sending researchers scrambling to find other options.
As part of a budget-cutting move, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) eliminated the annual grant of more than $1 million, delivering a serious blow to future mesothelioma research.
Mesothelioma is the rare, but aggressive cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. There is no cure and there are few treatment options, but recent advancements have been made despite minimal research funding.
“For a lot of people now, this will make research even more difficult,” said Michael Feldman, M.D., PhD, respected professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. “This was not good.”
The National Mesothelioma Virtual Bank (NMVB) was the only federally funded program specifically designed for mesothelioma research, receiving similar funding amounts annually since 2006. Many of the other grants from the CDC were reduced in the 2013 budgeting, but the NMVB grant was eliminated totally.
The CDC had rewarded the NMVB in 2011 with a five-year renewal of the grant, which was expected to take it through 2016. Then the federal budget cuts hit, and funding was dropped.
“We expected to take a cut and see funding reduced. Everyone is tightening their belt these days,” said Feldman, a member of the Research Evaluation Panel for the NMVB. “But to just have it yanked with virtually no warning, it was pretty shocking.”
The NMVB is a collaborative effort involving the University of Pittsburgh, New York University, the University of Pennsylvania, Mount Sinai School of Medicine and the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation.
It is designed to provide annotated mesothelioma biospecimens that are available to researchers from around the world. Throughout the past seven years, those biospecimens have been used for clinical, scientific and translational research to advance mesothelioma pathophysiology.
The goal has been to speed the development of preventative measures, and help develop novel therapeutics to fight the disease.
That fight just became harder.
Mesothelioma researchers anywhere were eligible to apply for NMVB tissue specimens. There are more than 1,300 biospecimens in the Tissue Bank today and more than 1,100 annotated cases available.
The belief was that researchers at every level and from every discipline could benefit from the shared resources, and spark new ideas. The goal of the Bank was to make it a national model and tissue-banking leader. There are other mesothelioma tissues banks on both the West and East coast, but none that promoted the open-to-all availability.
Future Plans On Hold
The NMVB is based at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and under the direction of Michael Becich, M.D. PhD, chairman of the Department of Biomedical Informatics. Without the annual grant from the CDC, no new specimens will be added, access will be reduced, and researchers will have to pay for anything they are provided.
Among the original advantages of using the NMVB was a continued annotation of mesothelioma biospecimens. It included epidemiologic, demographic and clinicopathologic follow up and recurrence data.
Specimen collection was expected to expand with the potential addition of new collaborating academic medical centers.
The specimen types available to researchers were fresh frozen tissues, blood products, tissue microarray with clinical data annotation and paraffin embedded blocks.
“These kind of things are not super sexy, but they are the building blocks for research,” Feldman said. “They are very important in terms of making progress. It becomes a little harder now.”