Recently, Galiher DeRobertis Waxman had the privilege of talking with Dr. Giovanni Gaudino about his work at the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii (CRCH). He shared his thoughts with attorneys on the importance of his research, clinical trials, and collaboration among scientists. He also discussed the multidisciplinary approach in working towards a cure. The interview appears as a series on our website.
A biochemist and molecular biologist, Dr. Gaudino came from Italy as a visiting scholar to join world-renowned mesothelioma researcher Dr. Michele Carbone and his team of scientists at the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii (CRCH).
According to Dr. Gaudino,
“Malignant mesothelioma is a cancer strictly associated with asbestos fiber exposure. Basically, this is the main cause of this disease . . . . Unfortunately, the worst part of this cancer is that it is very resistant to common conventional radiotherapy and chemotherapy.”
Asbestos fibers are the main cause of malignant mesothelioma. Asbestos is a fibrous mineral (magnesium and calcium silicate) used in insulation and fireproofing because it is not affected by heat or minerals and does not conduct electricity. Asbestos has been used from ancient times. It has variously been called lithios amiantos, the “undefiled rock”; linum vivum, the “living cloth”; and it was the “unquenchable” wick of the perpetual flame lit for the goddess Athena.
There are two major types of asbestos fiber – fibrous serpentine and fibrous amphiboles. Chrysotile (white asbestos) is the only commercial form of asbestos in the serpentine group. It comes mainly from Canada and was used in the United States. The most common forms of amphibole asbestos are amosite (brown asbestos) and crocidolite (blue asbestos), originally found in South Africa and later in Russia. Less common forms of amphibole asbestos are tremolite, anthophyllite, and actinolite.
All of these fibers enter the lungs through breathing and from the lungs they reach the pleura, the thin membrane covering the lungs and lining the chest cavity. These fibers cause chronic inflammation by means of what are called “inflammatory cytokines,” which enable the fibers to damage the DNA. Normal cells are transformed into mesothelioma cells by a process called “cell survival.” In other words, instead of dying, as they are supposed to, the damaged cells survive and they transform into tumor cells. Mesothelioma is a very aggressive, invasive tumor of the mesothelial serosal pleural lining. However, it can also develop in the similar linings found around the heart (pericardium) and the abdominal cavity (peritoneum). Unfortunately, malignant mesothelioma is very resistant to chemotherapy and to radiation therapy, and the medium survival for patients has been 12 to 18 months.