The International Mesothelioma Program (IMP) is a unique collaboration among epidemiologists, oncologists, surgeons, occupational health specialists, pathologists, statisticians, and clinicians, all focused on finding a cure for mesothelioma. Dr. David Sugarbaker, the Chief of Thoracic Surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, is the founder and director of the IMP.
The Program is designed to function at three levels. First and foremost, the IMP provides patient care and state-of-the-art treatment. A crucial adjunct to the medical treatment offered is the assistance for patients and their families provided by the IMP Support Groups. Lastly, the IMP focuses on mesothelioma research that will ultimately lead to a cure for this devastating disease.
Novel Combination of Surgery and Chemotherapy Drugs
In terms of treatment, Dr. Sugarbaker has developed a protocol that includes a novel combination of surgery and chemotherapy drugs. During the surgery, Dr. Sugarbaker removes the visible mesothelioma tumor since maximal tumor removal is the primary contributor to the extension of the life. Dr. Sugarbaker and his team have developed the technique of administering chemotherapy after surgery to improve its overall effectiveness. They utilize a heated bath of chemotherapy drugs administered within the chest cavity to increase tumor cell death. Their statistics show that this surgery plus the intracavitary chemotherapy extends the lives of mesothelioma patients over the often quoted life expectancy figures.
Research Focused on Improving Patient Care
The IMP’s research team brings together researchers from all areas who seek to understand how and why mesothelioma develops and to translate those findings into improved patient care. For example, there is research to develop tests that enable clinicians to know whether a patient’s tumor will be resistant to certain chemotherapy drugs. There is also exciting groundbreaking research related to the genetic fingerprinting of mesothelioma cells. The ability to identify a specific genetic fingerprint will help to identify the best course of treatment not only for patients with mesothelioma, but for all cancer patients.
Because of the number of patients who come to the IMP for treatment, researchers are able to conduct a variety of clinical trials. Presently, there is a clinical trial underway to test the efficacy of a new combination of heated chemotherapy drugs that are used after the lung, or a portion of it, is removed during surgery. The trial involves the addition of the chemotherapy drug Gemcitabine to Cisplatin which is the drug presently used. Gemcitabine in combination with Cisplatin has been shown to be effective in treating abdominal malignancies. There is hope that this combination will improve the results for patients who undergo surgery for malignant pleural mesothelioma.
One of the most important tools that the IMP has to aid in its research is a tumor bank, established in 1992, that contains frozen samples from more than 600 patients diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma. Using these tissue samples, researchers have been able to undertake genetic and genomic studies. Pathologists have discovered new diagnostic tools to differentiate pleural mesothelioma from other tumors. Other researchers have concentrated on identifying molecular markers of mesothelioma.
Emotional Support For Patients and Families
In addition to the state-of the-art medical care that it provides, the IMP is committed to providing emotional support that includes social work, pastoral care, and palliative care professionals who work to improve the quality of life for patients and their families. The IMP Support Groups provide an opportunity for patients and their families to learn from and support one another. By hearing and sharing their stores and experiences, patients and families can learn to cope and to have hope.
Many significant advances have been made by the IMP since its inception in 2002. Patients treated by Dr. Sugarbaker have seen their lives extended as a result of the surgical procedure and clinical care they have received. As Dr. Sugarbaker says, the purpose of the IMP can be summarized in seven simple words: “Quality life extension leading to a cure.”