Dr. Michele Carbone
Director, Thoracic Oncology
Dr. Michele Carbone is director of thoracic oncology at the University of Hawaii Cancer Center in Honolulu, where he leads an international team of scientists in the fight against mesothelioma. As a pathologist, Dr. Carbone is interested in the changes that occur in the human body when cancer is present; for example, he is interested in the process by which human mesothelial cells (cells in the membrane surrounding the lungs and other organs) transform into cancer cells, as well as how a patient’s genetics affect whether or not he or she will develop the disease. Since 1997, Dr. Carbone has conducted research in Cappadocia, Turkey, a region where exposure to an asbestos-like mineral has caused a massive mesothelioma epidemic.
Born in Italy, Dr. Carbone received his medical degree and PhD in human pathology from the Sapienza University of Rome, the largest university in Italy’s capital. He came to the United States in 1986 as a recipient of the National Institutes of Health Fogarty Fellowship, a prestigious public health award. He spent time teaching and researching at the University of Chicago and Loyola University of Chicago before joining the University of Hawaii in 2006. In addition to his work at the University of Hawaii Cancer Center, a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center, Dr. Carbone teaches pathology at the University of Hawaii’s John A. Burns School of Medicine. He is board certified in anatomic pathology in Italy and the United States.
In this video, Dr. Michele Carbone discusses intraoperative chemotherapy and other experimental strategies for treating mesothelioma at the 2011 International Symposium on Malignant Mesothelioma organized by the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation.
Clinical and Laboratory Research
Dr. Carbone has published more than 150 scientific papers, most of them investigating the mechanisms that cause mesothelioma in humans. In the process, Dr. Carbone has worked to decode some of the greatest mysteries of the disease on a molecular level. For instance, how do asbestos fibers interact with human cells to make them cancerous? Asbestos generally damages and kills mesothelial cells that it interacts with; how do some cells survive and turn cancerous? This is a question that has puzzled scientists for some time. Working with his research partners, Dr. Carbone has learned that asbestos exposure triggers the secretion of certain proteins in the human body that could make some mesothelial cells resistant to asbestos; ironically, this means that some exposed cells may survive asbestos exposure and later become cancerous. Dr. Carbone has also found an interesting link between asbestos and certain viruses that may be present in contaminated vaccines. Understanding how mesothelioma occurs on the level of cells and molecules could, in time, lead to important new developments in treating the disease.
Dr. Carbone has also learned that mesothelioma is linked to exposure to erionite, a naturally occurring mineral similar to asbestos but 200 to 800 times as potent. Dr. Carbone’s work studying erionite exposure in Turkey — where certain towns have been nicknamed “death villages” after mesothelioma has claimed half their inhabitants — led the Turkish Ministry of Health to build two erionite-free villages to protect residents. His work in these villages has also revealed that certain families are more genetically susceptible to the disease, which means that genetic testing may be able to better predict those individuals who are at high risk — possibly lead to earlier detection and better treatment.
“This is the first gene that proves the concept that the genetic makeup of an individual influences how that individual will be susceptible to environmental carcinogens,” Carbone said. “It’s very important, especially because it gives us a tool to identify, among the many people who are exposed to asbestos or to erionite, those who are at higher risk. There are an estimated 27 million people who have been exposed to asbestos in the United States. It is impossible to follow all of them up for early detection.”
In 2010, Dr. Carbone reported findings that erionite exposure could be a problem in the western United States, as the mineral is present in gravel used to pave 300 miles of road in North Dakota. The study, which was published in the high-profile journal Nature, led federal officials to investigate the matter.
Dr. Carbone's current research focuses on the mechanisms of carcinogenesis and the role of BAP1 mutations in the development of mesothelioma. More detailed information about Dr. Carbone's research can be found on his website www.oakparkpathology.com.
Carbone M, Emri S, Dogan U, Steele I, Tuncer M, Pass HI, Baris YI. A mesothelioma epidemic in Cappadocia: scientific developments and unexpected social outcomes. Nature Reviews Cancer, 7:147-154, 2007.
Yang H, Rivera Z, Jube S, Nasu M, Bertino P, Goparaju C, Franzoso G, Lotze MT, Krausz T, Pass HI, Bianchi ME, Carbone M. Programmed necrosis induced by asbestos in human mesothelial cells causes high-mobility group box 1 protein release and resultant inflammation. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 107: 12611-12616, 2010. PMCID: PMC2906549.
Carbone M, Ly BH, Dodson RF, Pagano I, Morris PT, Dogan UA, Gazdar AF, Pass HI, Yang H. Malignant mesothelioma: Facts, myths and hypotheses. J Cell Physiol, 2011 Mar 16; doi: 10.1002/jcp.22724. [Epub ahead of print]. PMCID: PMC3143206.
Testa JR, Cheung M, Pei J, Below JE, Tan Y, Sementino E, Cox N, Dogan AU, Pass, HI, Trusa S, Hesdorffer M, Nasu M, Powers A, Rivera Z, Comertpay S, Tanji M, Gaudino G, Yang H, Carbone M. Germline BAP1 mutations predispose to malignant mesothelioma. Nat Genet, Aug 28 2011; doi:10.1038/ng.912.
Bertino P, Panigada M, Soprana E, Bianchi V, Bertilaccio S, Sanvito F, Rose AH, Yang H, Gaudino G, Hoffmann PR, Siccardi A, Carbone M. Fowlpox-based survivin vaccination for malignant mesothelioma therapy. Int J Cancer. 2013 Jan 21. doi: 10.1002/ijc.28048.
Pass HI, Levin SM, Harbut MR, Melamed J, Chiriboga L, Donington J, Huflejt M, Carbone M, Chia D, Goodglick L, Goodman GE, Thornquist MD, Liu G, de Perrot M, Tsao MS, Goparaju C. Fibulin-3 as a blood and effusion biomarker for pleural mesothelioma. N Engl J Med. 2012 Oct 11;367(15):1417-27. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1115050. Erratum in: N Engl J Med. 2012 Nov;367(18):1768.
Author: Linda Molinari
Editor in Chief, Mesothelioma Cancer AllianceRead about Linda
Reviewer: Annette Charlevois
Patient Support CoordinatorRead about Annette
Dr. Michele Carbone, University of Hawaii Cancer Center
“Battling a Deadly Cancer,” University of Hawaii Cancer Center
“Epidemiology: Fear in the Dust,” Nature
“Genetics and Mesothelioma: Dr. Michele Carbone”