Second International Mesothelioma Symposium ~ The Truth About Mesothelioma

Monday, June 29, 2009

Second International Mesothelioma Symposium

Fresh evidence of progress in the diagnosis and treatment of an aggressive asbestos-related cancer was the highlight of the Second International Symposium on Cancerous Mesothelioma last week. Long considered lethal, meso is a tumor that invades the linings of the lungs, abdomen, heart or testicles. The Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (MARF) organizes the annual symposium, held this year in Las Vegas Nevada, to unite the meso community and focus on curing the disease.

Advances in detection, multimodal treatment, gene therapy, and immunotherapy were among the topics that thrilled the audience. Ann Ferrero, whose mother was diagnosed with meso a year ago, admitted that "Last year my entire family reeled from the shock." The information presented at the symposium, however, left her feeling -- in her own words, "moved, grateful . and, dare I say . hopeful!".

The symposium is unique in that it brings together doctors, scientists, advocates, meso patients and families to learn from each other and exchange research results, study findings, and review progress. MARF Director of Communications, and 4 year pleural meso survivor, Klaus Brauch, stated that "the most important sign of progress for me was that we are now talking about second-line treatments, something of great interest to those of us concerned about recurrences. A few years ago just surviving first-line treatment was an achievement." MARF, which has awarded over two million dollars of meso research funding, continues to be the only independent non-profit organization actively working to eradicate meso as a life-ending disease.

Attendees were able to meet and ask questions of some of the world's leading meso experts. Ferrero commented that "the ability to interact with the medical community on such an informal level was unique. I came back with several leads for my mom." In addition, over thirty meso patients, including numerous long-term survivors, were in attendance. Ferrero found meeting them to be "uplifting," and when she met the dedicated staff of MARF she found them to be "clearly devoted to curing this disease.".

The symposium also featured presentation of the Pioneer Award, an award MARF introduced this year to honor companies that have made substantial contributions to the field of meso research. Alfacell CEO Kuslima Shogen, one of the recipients, stated that "it is a great honor to receive one of the first MARF Pioneer Awards," and promised to "continue to work with [MARF] on the mission to find a cure." Other companies recognized with the Pioneer Award were Eli Lilly, Merck, Biogen Idec, Fujirebio Diagnostics, Genentech and Novartis.

MARF also held a poignant tribute ceremony dedicated to the lives and memory of meso patients lost to the cancer. Against the backdrop of a huge memorial wall, the names of the deceased were read by loved ones and candles were lit to commemorate their lives and their presence in spirit with the mission to cure the disease. Break out sessions for care givers, for patients, and for the bereaved allowed each one to focus on the specific needs of their group and exchange concerns in a safe and nurturing environment.

This year's winner of MARF's annual "Congressman Bruce Vento Hope Builder Award" was none other than the founder of MARF, Roger Worthington, without whose vision and hard work over the last six years neither MARF nor this unique symposium would exist. The awarded was presented by MARF Board of Directors member Susan Vento. Her husband, Minnesota congressman Bruce Vento -- who died from meso in 2000, was beloved for his work to build hope for overlooked communities. Worthington was honored for working, in much the same way, to create hope for the overlooked community of meso patients and those at risk by focusing on the need for effective treatments. The gala reception featured a stirring performance by recording artist Jordan Zevon, whose father, musician and composer Warren Zevon, died of mesothelioma in 2003.

The symposium was made possible through the generosity of financial supporters Eli Lilly, Simmons Cooper, Waters and Kraus, Stanley, Mandel and Iola, Bergman and Frockt, The David Law Firm, Merck, Alfacell Corporation, and Fujirebio Diagnostics. Attendees, whether patients, doctors, caregivers or industry executives, were all moved by the tributes, inspired by the presentations and energized by the resolve of presenters, the organizers and the audience to continue to fight for a cure for this terrible cancer. Planning for next year's symposium is already underway, and details should be announced soon.

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