Friday, July 26, 2013

Mount Sinai Researchers to Head Asbestos Research Program in Libby, Montana

As part of an ongoing effort to better understand the complex types of lung disease caused by exposure to amphibole asbestos fibers from vermiculite mining in Libby, Montana, three new doctors have joined the Libby Epidemiology Research Program (LERP), as part of the Center for Asbestos Related Disease (CARD). CARD is a not-for-profit clinic devoted to providing long-term screening, health monitoring, disease diagnosis, research and outreach to persons exposed to amphibole asbestos in Libby, Montana as a result of vermiculite mining in the region since 1919.

Dr. Raja Flores, chief of thoracic surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, has taken on the role of primary investigator of the LERP. He is joined by Dr. Claudia Henschke, clinical professor of radiology and head of the Lung and Cardiac Screening Program at Mount Sinai and Dr. David Yenkelevitz, professor of radiology and director of the Lung Biopsy Service at Mount Sinai.

“Bringing such high-level health care professionals onto Libby’s team is a winning combination for research and health care in the town where so many have already died from lung diseases,” said Brad Black, the Libby clinic’s CEO and medical director.

The program will monitor individuals exposed as children over many years to better understand disease progression, and determine differential factors for those who develop an asbestos related disease to those who do not. Researchers will compare CT scans of lung scarring between those with environmental exposure, occupational exposure and those who were exposed in Libby, but have since moved away.

The progression of lung scarring appears to occur more rapidly among Libby citizens exposed to amphibole tremolite fibers than those exposed exclusively to chrysotile fibers, the more commonly encountered form of asbestos. If researchers can determine the mechanisms behind the acceleration, whether it be due to the type of fiber or the level of exposure, it can hopefully offer insight into new approaches to prevent scarring from developing.

“People in Libby have more autoimmune antibodies than those with no exposure, as well as those exposed to different kinds,” explains Black, “Researchers will also examine autoimmune antibodies and autoimmune disorders, which could hold the key to why some people react differently to the amphibole fibers.”

The health dangers of the amphibole asbestos mined in Libby extend far beyond the town. Millions of homes and businesses in North America have used vermiculite from Libby as insulation, fireproofing and as soil conditioner. It is estimated that the Libby mine was the source of 80 percent of all vermiculite used in the world.

Executives from W.R. Grace, which owned the mine when it closed in 1990, were tried on criminal charges in the U.S. District Court in Missoula in 2009 for knowingly exposing citizens to the dangerous fiber, but were acquitted by a jury after a trial that lasted several months. As a result of the trial however, W.R. Grace was ordered to pay the U.S. government more than $54 million to cover cleanup costs of the town and mine.

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Monday, July 22, 2013

Asbestos is The Way of Life for Russian Mountain Population

It is unbelievable that there is a place in today’s world where a person’s daily routine could involve shaking asbestos dust off laundry hanging on a clothesline or sweeping asbestos dust out of a window sill to let in the morning light. In the eastern slopes of Russia’s Ural Mountains, such a place does in fact exist.

In the recent New York Times article, City in Russia Unable to Kick Asbestos Habit, author Andrew Kramer gives a detailed description of life in the mountain city of Asbest. With a population of 70,000, Asbest is home to the largest open pit asbestos mine in the world. The mine it is about half the size of Manhattan and descends about 1,000 feet down into the earth. The city’s anthem is, “Asbestos, my city and my fate.” The image on the city’s flag is white lines (to symbolize asbestos fibers), passing through a ring of flame. A billboard in Asbest proclaims “Asbestos is our Future.”

Most residents of Asbest  have a persistent cough and strange welts on their skin due to repeated exposures to asbestos. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization, is conducting a study of residents in Asbest to determine whether asbestos causes ailments other than lung cancer.

Russia’s trade association claims that the type of asbestos mined in Russia, chrysotile, is less harmful than other types of asbestos. Vladimir A. Galitsyn, the association’s spokesman, says they consider it safe. “As a representative of the industry, I don’t see any problem.” In February 2013, the World Health Organization and the International Agency for Research on Cancer called for an end to all uses of asbestos reiterating all forms of asbestos are carcinogenic and can cause asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

The story of Asbest is eerily similar to that of the town of Asbestos in Quebec, Canada, which until recently was the title-holder of home to the world’s largest asbestos mine. In 2011, we covered Daily Show correspondent, Aasif Mandvi’s visit to the town, in the post, Ored to Death. Mandvi spoke to mine and city officials of Asbestos who also claimed that chrysotile fiber is “relatively” safe, stating “you drove through our town, you can see there are no sick people.”

Up into 2012, Canadian asbestos industry officials ran a tireless campaign to get the last functioning asbestos mine back up and operational after it had shut down temporarily due to disrepair. The mine had even been promised a loan of $58 million dollars by the Canadian government. Any hopes of re-opening the mine disappeared after the newly elected Canadian government publicly acknowledged the dangers of asbestos in the fall of 2012 and withdrew its promise of a loan.

Sadly, it seems that in order for Russia to follow in Canada’s wake, the demand from other countries for chrysotile would need to diminish substantially, but demand is actually growing. Developing countries who may not be fully aware of the dangers associated with asbestos use the material liberally in building materials. Even as the knowledge of the deadly nature of asbestos spreads, developing governments are highly susceptible to monetary pressure from the asbestos industry.

As we have previously discussed here and here, Russia quickly filled the void left when Canada withdrew from the asbestos business, and attended the Rotterdam Convention for the first time with the sole purpose of keeping chrysotile off of the United Nation’s Prior Informed Consent list of hazardous substances.

It is ironic and poignant that a monument to residents of Asbest who have died has been made out of a block of asbestos ore, with the inscription “Live and Remember.” “People who value their lives leave,” Boris Balobanov, a former factory employee, explained, “I was born here and have no place else to go.”

Monday, July 15, 2013

Pacific Meso Center’s Meet the Expert Series Presents ADAO President and Co-Founder, Linda Reinstein

On Wednesday, July 17, 2013, Linda Reinstein, Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) President/CEO and Co-Founder, will be presenting Ban Asbestos Struggle: From our Homes to the Hill, at 11am PDT as part of Pacific Meso Center’s (PMC) “Meet the Expert” Series.

After Linda’s husband Alan was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma in 2003, she fought back by becoming one of the most influential voices in the ban asbestos movement. In 2004, Linda co-founded ADAO to raise awareness about the dangers of asbestos and unite patients and families who have been affected by asbestos-related disease. Today ADAO is the largest independent asbestos victims’ organization based in the United States, with over 20,000 individuals eager to live in a world without asbestos.

Linda has frequently served as a U.S. Congressional witness, having presented testimony before the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives as well as the U.S. Department of Labor (OSHA), U.S. Surgeon General, and the U.S. EPA. She has also presented keynote speeches to the British House of Commons, United Nations IX World Congress on Safety and Health at Work, TED Manhattan Beach, the International Mesothelioma Interest Group (iMig) and audiences throughout the world.

To attend the “Meet the Expert” Series, please join the meeting at:
·         Use your microphone and speakers (VoIP) – a headset is recommended. 
·         Or, call in using your telephone, dial +1 (312) 878-3081
·         Access Code/Meeting ID: 177-054-021
·         Audio PIN: Shown after joining the meeting

The “Meet the Expert” Series is hosted by Savannah Cline, RN, BSN and Medical Liaison at The Pacific Meso Center. The series is part of Savannah’s efforts to serve as a resource for mesothelioma patients, as well as their families and friends, who are searching for reliable information regarding mesothelioma and current treatment options.  

“This is our first "Meet the Expert" series webinar. We hope that patients, family members, and physicians will gain something from listening; information surrounding treatment for mesothelioma, how chemotherapy is used, how one is exposed to asbestos, or what is being done today to ban asbestos.”

For additional information please contact Savannah at 310-474-8223 or via email: or visit PMC’s website.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

FDA Issues Approval for Phase 2 Clinical Trial of Potential New Mesothelioma Treatment

The FDA has issued approval for biopharmaceutical company Verastem to begin a Phase 2 clinical study of a new drug for the treatment of malignant pleural mesothelioma. VS-6063 is an orally available, small molecule inhibitor of a crucial signaling pathway inside stem cells called the Focal Adhesion Kinase (FAK) pathway.

FAK is vital for tumor development and is critical for the survival of cancer stem cells. VS-6063 was well-tolerated in a Phase 1 study and demonstrated signs of clinical activity in advanced solid tumors.

Dr. Dean Fennell, Chair of Thoracic Medical Oncology at the University of Leicester, incoming President of the International Mesothelioma Interest Group (iMig) and a member of the Verastem Mesothelioma Steering Committee, presented promising data at a briefing session on VS-6063 at the annual American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in Chicago, IL, in early June of this year.

Studies by Verastem and others have shown that chemotherapy agents most commonly used in the treatment of mesothelioma do not kill cancer stem cells in mesothelioma, but actually increase growth of cancer stem cells. This includes the only FDA approved chemotherapy drug pemetrexed (Alimta), along with other commonly used agents cisplatin, vinorelbine and gemcitabine. VS-6063 has the ability to kill these cancer stem cells.

Studies also show that mesothelioma patients who lack the tumor suppressor gene Merlin have increased sensitivity to FAK inhibition, which would greatly enhance the effectiveness of a drug like VS-6063. Currently a biomarker test is being developed in conjunction with LabCorp to identify mesothelioma patients low in Merlin, this accounts for approximately 40-50% of mesothelioma patients

“These early results suggest that a targeted therapy, particularly when used in combination with a specific biomarker, has the potential to significantly improve treatment of this aggressive and deadly disease,” said Dr. Fennell, “There is a large unmet medical need in mesothelioma and an opportunity to develop targeted agents to bring new hope to patients struggling with their disease.”

VS-6063 is also being studied in a Phase 1/1b trial in combination with paclitaxel for the treatment of ovarian cancer.

For more information on the VS-6063 Clinical Trial visit: