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In This Issue:
Norm Larker and Karen Grant were given no hope and only months to live when
they were diagnosed with mesothelioma, a deadly and incredibly rare cancer often
linked to asbestos exposure.
That diagnosis was more than three years ago for Larker of California, a retired
Major League Baseball player and member of the 1959 World Series champion Dodgers,
and more than a year ago for Grant, who was a 29-year-old newlywed when diagnosed
with mesothelioma. Both are patients of the International Mesothelioma Program,
a multi-disciplinary team directed by Dr. David Sugarbaker that draws clinical,
surgical and research expertise from BWH, Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard
Medical School and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
“If it were not for BWH’s International Mesothelioma Program, I
wouldn’t be here today,” Grant said last week when about 125 people
gathered as the International Mesothelioma Program accepted its largest financial
The Boston law firm of Thornton & Naumes, a firm that specializes in representing
victims of asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma, pledged $3 million to
the International Mesothelioma Program over the next five years. Thornton &
Naumes attorneys last week presented their first, $1.2 million installment.
“I’ve represented more than 500 mesothelioma victims in the last
25 years, and there has been no hope medically for any of them, ” said
attorney Michael Thornton. “But Dr. Sugarbaker and the International Mesothelioma
Program team are making the first real serious advances we have observed. Finally,
these victims have an honest hope.”
The International Mesothelioma Program’s mission of providing patients
with quality life extension leading to a cure has drawn patients from all over
the world to Boston where a team of surgeons, pulmonologists, medical and radiation
oncologists, radiologists, pathologists and patient care staff study, evaluate
and treat hundreds of patients. Malignant mesothelioma is an aggressive form
of cancer that grows in the membranes lining the chest cavity, lungs, abdominal
cavity or heart. While its exact cause remains a mystery, between 50 and 80
percent of people diagnosed with it can recall asbestos exposure at some point
in their lives.
“We have a very unique situation here that does not exist anywhere else
in the world,” said Sugarbaker, chief of Thoracic Surgery and director
of the International Mesothelioma Program.
Karl Kelsey, MD, is using an epidemiologic approach to research mesothelioma’s
cause and pathway. Raphael Bueno, MD, a BWH surgeon, concentrates on gene discovery
strategies to enable the team to tailor individual therapy for each patient.
Jonathan Fletcher, MD, of BWH’s Pathology Department, is working to discover
therapeutic targets within mesothelioma cells.
The entire team is energized from battle-tested patients who are making strides
against what was once a rapid death sentence. Patients like Karen Grant, the
youngest person ever diagnosed with bilateral pleural mesothelioma, show remarkable
bravery in going forward with aggressive and experimental treatments. “She’s
a pioneer,” Sugarbaker said.
Sugarbaker performed two surgeries on Grant, each time removing the lung lining,
burning off mesothelioma cells with a laser and surrounding the outside of the
lung with a heated chemotherapy wash to kill any remaining and unseen cancerous
cells. A year later, she is cancer free.
“Karen is a tangible result of what this program is doing,” her
husband, Jeff, said.