Mesothelioma is one of the hardest cancers to treat—and one of the most challenging for researchers to investigate. Now a virtual bank is providing researchers with an invaluable tool for studying this disease, according to a report published in the August 13 issue of BMC Cancer.
Researchers are constantly searching for new ways to diagnose mesothelioma earlier, and to find better therapies than the limited options that currently exist. However, because malignant mesothelioma is relatively rare (2,000 to 3,000 cases are diagnosed in the United States each year), it’s often difficult for investigators who are at facilities scattered throughout the country to get the resources they need for their research.
To help, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in collaboration with the National Institutes of Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH), created the National Mesothelioma Virtual Bank (NMVB). This bank collects, stores, and distributes mesothelioma tissue samples from various research facilities, along with blood and DNA samples and data on demographics, cancer incidence, symptoms, treatment, and recurrence. It then makes all of this information available via a web-based interface that researchers can access from wherever they are located.
Investigators can take these data and apply them to their area of research, says report author Waqas Amin, MD, a research associate in the Department of Biomedical Informatics at the University of Pittsburgh. “For example, a researcher may require 20 cases of malignant mesothelioma from patients who are 50 years or younger to test a genetic assay [analysis]. The NMVB can help facilitate the identification and use of these cases,” Dr. Amin says.
Currently, the database holds more than 650 mesothelioma cases, 775 specimens, and numerous blood and DNA samples. The samples come from patients who underwent surgery, and who were recruited to participate at hospitals and physician offices around the country. Any patient who sees one of the doctors collaborating in the database is eligible to take part, provided they are 18 years old and can give informed consent. In order to protect the patients’ privacy, numbers, rather than names, have been assigned to the tissue samples and data.
The database is open to the public; however, patients and their families can only access a brief overview of each case due to HIPAA privacy regulations. NMVB’s real value is to mesothelioma researchers. “Our mission is to collect high quality and well annotated specimens for the mesothelioma research community to help find a cure for this deadly disease,” Dr. Amin says.
Amin W, et al. National Mesothelioma Virtual Bank: A standard based biospecimen and clinical data resource to enhance translational research. BMC Cancer. 2008;8:236.