CDC Reinstates $2.2M Grant to Fund the Mesothelioma Tissue Bank

Researcher examines biopsies

The mesothelioma community – researchers, doctors, patients, families and advocates – received a much-needed boost this week when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reversed an earlier decision and reinstated funding for the National Mesothelioma Virtual Bank (NMVB).

Officials at the CDC in June restored a two-year, $2.2 million federal grant that will carry the NMVB through 2016.

“Without this [funding], research of mesothelioma could have stagnated,” Michael Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, told Asbestos. com. “It [NMVB] is like the cornerstone of a building: A foundation on which to build upon and so important for any advancement. We’re very pleased right now.”

The NMVB is a biospecimen registry designed to facilitate scientific research and advance the goal of developing novel therapies, preventative measures, diagnostic tools and eventually a cure for mesothelioma.

It provides tissue samples, paraffin-embedded blood products and a vast amount of other clinicopathological information free for researchers around the country.

Everyone Should Benefit

The NMVB, which was founded in 2006, is the only federally funded program specifically designed for mesothelioma research. It is a collaborative effort involving the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the New York University School of Medicine, the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

The theory behind the NMVB is that researchers everywhere, at various levels and in various disciplines, are eligible to apply for tissue specimens. Officials believe that kind of open sharing will spark new ideas and become a national model and a leader among tissue banks.

Researchers in recent years have made significant strides in trying to accomplish that goal. For example, they’ve been helping doctors extend patient survival rates. Novel treatments in recent years, many in clinical trials, are revolving around immunotherapy, where designer drugs help a body’s own immune system fight the cancer.

“This was not a good time to be scaling back,” Feldman said. “We’re at a crossroads [with mesothelioma]. We’re better understanding this disease and seeing real progress. It would have been the worst time to cutting back the research.”

What Led to the Loss of Funding?

Under mounting problems with raising the debt limit, the federal government in 2013 put the budget sequester into place. More than $85 billion in automatic spending cuts affected health care, nonprofit organizations and scientific research and more.

As part of the sequester, the CDC, in association with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), told the NMVB they would no longer fund it.

The NMVB then informed researchers that after Sept. 1, 2014, tissue samples might no longer be available for free and expansion was in doubt.

Looking Ahead

The reversal in funding means that researchers can continue working on medical innovations in the treatment of mesothelioma.

There are more than 1,300 biospecimens in the tissue bank today and researchers plan to expand it significantly with the addition of new medical centers. Those plans had been sidetracked by the announcement in 2013 that left everyone in limbo.

While the NMVB is the only agency eligible to receive this grant money, it still must submit an official application before July 31, 2014 to the Procurement and Grants Office of the Department of Health and Human Services.

“We had been working to try and get this reinstated, but you never know until someone says yes. There are no guarantees with these budgets,” said Feldman, a member of the Research Evaluation Panel for the NMVB. “We are fortunate, but we won’t rest on our good fortune. We’re already looking to see what the next opportunity [beyond 2016] is.”

  1. Feldman, Michael, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, interview with Asbestos.com. (2014, July 2)
  2. National Mesothelioma Virtual Bank for Translational Research, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Procurement and Grants Office. Retrieved from: http://grants.univstats.com/cooperative-agreement/RFA-OH-14-010

Tim Povtak is an award-winning writer with more than 30 years of reporting national and international news. His most recent experience is in researching and writing about asbestos litigation issues and asbestos-related conditions like mesothelioma. If you have a story idea for Tim, please email him at tpovtak@asbestos.com

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