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.
Harvey Pass, M.D.
Professor of Surgery and Chief, Division of Thoracic Surgery and Thoracic Oncology
NYU School of Medicine