The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) plans to award a five-year, $5.5 million grant to continue funding the much-needed National Mesothelioma Virtual Bank (NMVB) through 2021.
The NMVB is a biospecimen registry designed to facilitate scientific research of mesothelioma, the rare and aggressive cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. It is the only federally funded program designed exclusively for mesothelioma research.
“It’s often difficult to pull enough material together for [researching] a disease like this,” Dr. Ainsley Weston, associate director for science at NIOSH, told Asbestos.com. “This project provides access to the tools that researchers need to make progress.”
The NMVB has been based at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center since its opening in 2006, but the latest funding opportunity is open now to any institution that meets the strict guidelines for hosting it.
The goal of the grant is to help researchers develop novel therapies, better diagnostic tools, preventative measures and eventually find a cure, all through collaboration made possible by the NMVB.
It provides researchers around the world with fresh frozen tissue samples, blood and DNA samples and corresponding patient information, including demographic data, cancer stage and treatment history. And it’s free.
Mesothelioma Tissue Bank Is a Foundation for Many Studies
There currently are 1,198 annotated mesothelioma cases and 1,397 biospecimens in the NMVB. Since its inception, it has been the foundation for more than 30 peer-reviewed scientific studies of mesothelioma.
According to a Funding Opportunity Announcement from NIOSH, the grant aims to “continue to advance biomedical research for malignant mesothelioma by expanding the collection of biospecimens, related data and other information in the NMVB.”
The official objectives for the program include:
- Maintain and expand the program by seeking new collaborations with other institutions and organizations
- Enroll increasing numbers of patients to participate in the tissue bank and virtual registry
- Promote the tissue bank and patient registry as a source for the clinical science community
- Conduct studies to document the usefulness of the NMVB to the scientific community
- Maintain a record of requests for access to the tissue samples and the database
- Record the presentations, publications and abstracts resulting from the use of the NMVB
The University of Pittsburgh had been awarded each previous grant for the NMVB. It has collaborated with the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the New York School of Medicine — all leaders in the fight against mesothelioma — in building the virtual bank.
Although NIOSH had awarded a similar five-year grant in 2011, it was suspended temporarily in 2013 as part of a budget cutting move ordered by Congress.
Fortunately for mesothelioma researchers, the money returned to the budget for 2014.
Limited Mesothelioma Research Funding
Mesothelioma has no cure. It receives only a small fraction of the research funding provided to more prevalent diseases like breast cancer and lung cancer. An estimated 2,500 to 3,000 people are diagnosed annually in the U.S. The majority of those live less than two years after diagnosis.
According to NIOSH, 64 percent of deaths from mesothelioma are associated with services, construction and manufacturing work sectors. Carpenters, pipefitters, plumbers and steamfitters within the construction sector accounted for 35 percent of the deaths.
Although the rarity of mesothelioma often makes it difficult for researchers to recruit enough participants for important studies, resources from the tissue bank should help solve this problem and spark new ideas for prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
“A researcher with a great idea but no direct access to these types of tissues can get them here,” Weston said. “This promotes the research.”