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MARF's Dr. Pass Urges Sen. Clinton To Champion Meso Research From The DOD's $50 Million Research Budget

March 17, 2006

The Honorable Hillary Clinton
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Senator Clinton:

As New York-based physicians and investigators on the front lines of mesothelioma, we are writing to ask for your leadership to ensure that the disease is included as a project of emphasis in the Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program within the fiscal year 2007 Defense Appropriations bill.

Mesothelioma is a deadly, asbestos-related cancer. We know you personally have felt its tragedy, and we extend our deep condolences for the loss of your friend, Eli Segal. We also commend your tireless efforts to secure federal funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the monitoring and treatment of the potential health effects related to 9/11. The heroic first-responders, indeed all those exposed to the tons of asbestos-containing material around Ground Zero, are now likely at a real though as yet unquantified increased risk of developing mesothelioma.

Indeed, the national toll of human suffering mesothelioma causes is already heavy. In addition to Mr. Segal, the disease in just the past few years has claimed American patriots and public servants Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, Jr. and Congressman Bruce Vento, as well as the beloved singer/songwriter Warren Zevon. By official counts, which we believe are low (there is no comprehensive national registry), the disease claims approximately 3,000 Americans each year. Most of these had significant occupational exposure while defending our country, helping to build it, or working in its factories. Their family members, exposed to the fibers brought into the home, also suffer a high incidence. But mesothelioma is an indiscriminate killer. It can be triggered potentially by just one fiber. Many of our patients have succumbed based on very small, or even indefinable exposures which could be common to almost every American.

Your leadership in the battle against mesothelioma is particularly appropriate given its strong connection to New York. In addition to the future threat posed by 9/11, it is estimated that New York already suffers the third highest mesothelioma death rate among U.S. states. New York is arguably the leading state in terms of advancing mesothelioma research and treatment. Of the handful of centers throughout the U.S. that have expertise in developing methods for the early detection and subsequent treatment of mesothelioma, three of them are located here - New York University, Memorial Sloan Kettering, and Columbia University. A fourth New York institution, The Mount Sinai Irving Selikoff Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine, is one of the pioneers of mesothelioma epidemiology.

Unfortunately, federal funding for mesothelioma research has been almost non-existent in the past, and progress against this disease has lagged far behind other cancers. And, in this budgetary environment there are even fewer opportunities to expand the mesothelioma research efforts through the National Institutes of Health.

However, the intellectual investment by a few focused centers is beginning to pay incredible dividends. We and our collaborators from other centers are convinced that mesothelioma could be a potentially curable disease if an infusion of funds were available. Surgical resection, considered impossible ten years ago, is now commonplace at specialized centers. Mesothelioma was recently proven, for the first time, to be vulnerable to chemotherapy. And new understanding of the molecular basis for mesothelioma has not only led to the discovery of potentially new early detection markers, but also is allowing us to pinpoint, and thereby target therapies to, the genes and pathways that cause the disease to progress.

The time is right for a federal commitment to mesothelioma research. Ultimately we believe Congress should establish a designated mesothelioma research program, as it has for other diseases. But as an essential first step, we respectfully ask for your leadership within the U.S. Senate to ensure that mesothelioma is included in the Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program for fiscal year 2007 Department of Defense Appropriations. The directive of the program is to provide funding opportunities for medical research projects of clear scientific merit and direct relevance to military health. Mesothelioma is clearly in the center of this directive, as approximately 32% of those who die from this devastating disease are U.S. servicemen exposed to asbestos-containing materials while serving the U.S. in Navy ships or shipyards.

The connection between mesothelioma and military service makes it a just and deserving area of research to include in this program. Placing mesothelioma as a research priority within the Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program of the Department of Defense ensures that investigators can compete for funding based on the scientific merit of their research under the program's $50 million annual budget. This would be a crucial step forward in combating this deadly cancer for the sake of our military veterans, those exposed to asbestos in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, and the millions of New Yorkers and other states' citizens who are at risk through their everyday activities and work.

Again, we thank you for your commitment to ensuring that those impacted by the events of September 11, 2001 receive the medical care they need. And, we hope that we can count on you to support federal funding for the mesothelioma research and medical community. We would be happy to provide additional background information to you or speak with your staff further about our request.

Thank you again and we look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Harvey Pass, M.D.

Professor of Surgery and Chief, Division of Thoracic Surgery and Thoracic Oncology
NYU School of Medicine

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