Defense Department Combats Mesothelioma

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The U.S. Department of Defense is stepping up its efforts to combat the threat of mesothelioma cancer among veterans.  For the fourth consecutive year, the DOD has agreed to provide grant funding to researchers exploring the causes and possible treatments for malignant mesothelioma, a disease triggered almost exclusively by exposure to asbestos.

Because as many as a third of the approximately 2,500 cases of the disease reported annually in the U.S. occur among veterans, mesothelioma has been designated by the DOD since 2008 as an eligible disease under the Peer Reviewed Cancer Research Program (PRCRP).  This year, the program will provide $16 million in grants for the study of a range of cancers, including colorectal, bladder, kidney, pancreatic, mesothelioma and others.  The DOD says the goal of the PRCRP is to “improve the quality of life by decreasing the impact of cancer on service members, their families, and the American public.”

Although rare in the general public, mesothelioma strikes a disproportionate number of veterans, especially those who worked in Navy ship yards where asbestos was once commonly used as an inexpensive, fire- and corrosion-proof insulator.  Hundreds of thousands of these veterans were unknowingly exposed to the deadly dust when they had to repair, maintain or dismantle ships.

Asbestos is no longer used in ship building and is strictly regulated by OSHA and the EPA.  But because mesothelioma can take as long as 40 years to cause symptoms, new mesothelioma patients are continually being diagnosed.  Most mesothelioma patients are older than 65, many are veterans, and few survive more than a year after diagnosis – even with the most advanced treatments available.  The DOD hopes this year’s $16 million in grant funding will improve those odds by “providing new investigators and their early career mentors opportunities to excel in groundbreaking cutting-edge research for the prevention, detection and treatment of cancer.”

Since 2008, DOD funding has been used to support research into macrophage-induced inflammation in mesothelioma, earlier detection of mesothelioma, finding new therapeutic targets, and implementing a clinical trial of a vaccine-based therapy. The deadline to submit an application for this year’s research funding is November 22.


Department of Defense Program Announcement, Peer Reviewed Cancer Research Program

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