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The 2019 International Symposium on Malignant Mesothelioma Brings Experts and Patients Together


From March 25th – 27th, the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation will host its annual International Symposium on Malignant Mesothelioma in Bethesda, Maryland. The Meso Foundation has organized the event since 2004 to help bring the mesothelioma community together, offering patients and loved ones insight to the latest treatments and research, facetime with renowned mesothelioma experts, and the opportunity to connect with others facing similar experiences.

Mesothelioma Experts Present the Latest Research

Over the course of the three-day symposium, dozens of mesothelioma specialists from across the United States will lead panels that provide insight to the latest clinical trials and advancements for mesothelioma.

Leading experts in pleural mesothelioma and peritoneal mesothelioma, including Dr. Taylor Ripley, Director of the Mesothelioma Treatment Center at Baylor College of Medicine, and Dr. Harvey Pass, Chief of Division of Thoracic Surgery at NYU School of Medicine, will be leading panel discussions on the latest surgical clinical trials for patients. In recent years, many clinical trials have focused on different combinations of therapies before, during, and after surgery to improve the efficacy of the treatment. Several recent studies have tested the impact of radiation before surgery, with some early-phase trials suggesting the combination could make immunotherapy even more effective.

Another important area of mesothelioma research is understanding the genome and genetics of the disease. Researchers have been investigating how DNA may help recognize people who are potentially more susceptible to developing the rare cancer. So far, a number of chromosomal losses have been linked to mesothelioma, with many studies also focusing on the BAP1 gene, a tumor suppressor gene that may help diagnose mesothelioma. Researchers from Loyola University and the Fox Chase Cancer Center will lead a panel discussion on the latest research in this area.

One panel will also focus on the latest updates in screening and diagnostic tests for mesothelioma. Because mesothelioma has a long latency period and nonspecific symptoms, it has long been difficult to diagnose in the earlier stages. A later diagnosis can limit patients’ treatment options and lead to a worse prognosis. As such, various clinical trials have focused on finding new and improved diagnostic tools to detect mesothelioma sooner. Similar to understanding the genetics of the disease, research has focused on biomarkers in the blood as one avenue for earlier diagnosis.

“We will cover all of these topics, and then some, and will do so in a way that makes this complicated information approachable to non-medical people,” said Maja Belamaric, Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation’s director of communications.

“We want everybody to walk away with answers to their questions,” she added.

Bringing the Mesothelioma Community Together

As mesothelioma is only diagnosed in about 3,000 new cases in the United States each year, those facing a diagnosis can often feel isolated and alone. In addition to the expert panel discussions and ability to meet top mesothelioma doctors, the International Symposium on Malignant Mesothelioma allows patients, loved ones, and survivors the opportunity to come together and find the support they need.

Studies have found that being part of a support group or having a strong support system has a positive impact on patients’ quality of life. Meeting others going through a similar experience with the disease can help patients and loved ones receive invaluable tips to cope, strengthen their emotional health, and find hope. While attendees will have the opportunity to interact with panel session leaders and each other, the symposium also offers a dedicated support group session inclusive of patients, new patients, caregivers, loved ones, and bereaved.

Mesothelioma survivor and advocate Heather Von St. James frequently attends these symposiums, and finds the sense of community to be the most rewarding aspect. “The Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation’s symposium is the best place for the community to come together, support one another and learn about what the future holds for mesothelioma treatment. There is nowhere else that the specialists, patients, and caregivers can come together in one setting, and meet as equals. That is what sets this symposium apart; it’s community.”

Along with the sense of community and togetherness, an important component of the event is Advocacy Day. Raising awareness of the disease, as well as the dangers of asbestos, can prevent future diagnoses and lead to more research funding. This year, members of the mesothelioma community will spend this final day of the symposium meeting with their elected officials on Capitol Hill to share their stories and request funding for the first ever patient registry.

The International Symposium on Malignant Mesothelioma offers an opportunity for patients, survivors, mesothelioma experts, and others to come together to share knowledge and experiences, and help advance research to one day find a cure.