Inquiries with the Investigator: CAR-T Cell Therapy

Immunotherapy – a class of treatments that uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer – has increasingly gained widespread acceptance from leading biomedical scientists. There are various types of immunotherapeutic agents. Recently one approach to immunotherapy called “Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-Cell Therapy (CAR-T-Cell Therapy) has received a great deal of attention and is finding success in current clinical trials.  CAR-T Cell Therapy entails engineering a patient’s own immune cells to recognize and attack their tumors.  Investigator Ray Wong explains in greater detail below what CAR-T Cell therapy is, what the risks are, and what the future of this form of immunotherapy might look like.


  • How does Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-Cell therapy (CAR-T Cell therapy) work?

The current generation of CAR T cell therapies being tested in clinical trials involves a complex manufacturing process.  A patient’s immune cells are first removed from their bloodstream through a process called leukapheresis.  Leukapheresis typically takes 2-4 hours, where a patient is connected to a machine that separates immune cells from the blood, and the remaining components are returned to circulation.  The immune cells are shipped to specialized manufacturing facilities where the T cells in the leukapheresis specimens are genetically engineered to insert specific anti-tumor receptors called chimeric antigen receptors (CAR).  The T cells are simultaneously grown to large numbers over 7-10 days, then shipped back to the patient for intravenous infusion by their oncologist.  CAR T cell therapy is currently combined with chemotherapy, which appears necessary to achieve full effectiveness of CAR T cells.

CAR-T Cell Diagram PNG

Photo Credit: UNC Lineberger

  • What are some of the limitations of CAR-T Cell therapy? Which cancers have the best response rate so far?

Other than the two week manufacturing time and high financial cost of treatment, the main limitation is that it thus far only works well in blood cancers like certain leukemias and lymphomas.  There does appear to be a high cure rate in certain blood cancers, with some clinical trials reporting well over 50% complete response rates (disappearance of all disease).  However, solid tumors like mesothelioma have been much more difficult to treat with CAR T cells.  The current prevailing hypothesis is that CAR T cells do not efficiently penetrate solid tumors and/or are shut down by immune suppressive factors often present in solid tumors.


  • What are your thoughts on the future of CAR-T-Cell therapy?

Patient safety is still the top concern of CAR T cell therapy.  The FDA has halted some clinic trials as recently as 2016 due to patient deaths.  CAR T cells are very powerful, and can causes excessive immune reactivity resulting in a condition called “cytokine release syndrome,” which can be fatal.  The interaction of CAR T cells combined with chemotherapy is still not fully understood.   The FDA may want several more years of extensive clinical trials to further study safety improvements of CAR T cell therapy.


Next-generation CAR T cells may not need to be custom manufactured for each patient.  Researchers are now exploring the use of a gene deletion technology called “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats” (CRISPR) in the laboratory.  CRISPR might be used to convert T cells from healthy donors into universally compatible CAR T cells.  In laboratory studies, CRISPR can be used to delete proteins on the surface of T cells that normally would cause them to be rejected in genetically unrelated recipients.  If successful, this would allow for bulk manufacturing of “off-the-shelf” CAR T cells ready for immediate use, analogous to universally compatible Type O-negative blood.  CRISPR is also being studied to delete other genes in CAR T cells that would make them more resistant to immune suppression.  This might improve their effectiveness in solid cancers.

Caregiver Support: The Art of Staying Organized

22Acting as a caregiver for a loved one can be overwhelming and difficult to manage especially in the beginning.  Staying organized in all aspects, around the house, with the patient’s prescriptions, their schedule, doctor visits, and important documents is crucial.  We listed below several ways you can maintain an orderly routine both for yourself and your loved one.


  • Declutter : It may sound obvious but going through your things and getting rid of items you no longer need or use is important not only for your organizational needs, but also for your frame of mind. When your house, car, or office is cluttered it makes you feel anxious, stressed, and overwhelmed .  Ask a friend or family member to help you go through items and mark those to keep, give way, or throw away.
  • Keep a detailed calendar: You may think that you keep a detailed calendar already in your head however many people find it reassuring to see a detailed account of their schedule over the next few months.  You don’t need to panic wondering if you forgot something because where your supposed to be and when is right in front of you.  Keep track of your schedule by listing all appointments, reminders, social gatherings, and events on your calendar.  Use a hard copy calendar or an electronic calendar, whichever you feel most comfortable with and you will use.
  • Journal: Since you are the one who is accompanying your loved one to all of their appointments it is very important to keep a written account for posterity and as a reference if you ever need it.  Detail the patient’s day to day routine including their exercise, eating, medication schedule, sleep schedule and any potential health issues such as difficulty breathing, pains,  constipation, etc.  You can also write about your correspondence with various doctors, your insurance company, and your pharmacy so anyone who needed to know that information would have it at their disposal. Explore your thoughts, worries, and hopes in another journal where you can analyze your moods and ensure that you are taking care of yourself . This is a journal that you can either keep for yourself or share with a family member/friend who can use it to help understand what you are going through and how they can help.
  • Have a medication system:  Arrange all medication in a case or marked container and make sure that you have at least a weeks supply of all medications in case of an emergency and you are unable to get to a pharmacy.
  • Keep an information binder:  Organize the binder in whatever way makes sense to you and to a third party in the event that you are not there and someone needs certain information.  List all of your loved ones doctors, their contact info, the nurse practitioner on call’s info, their  appointment schedule, an overview of their treatment, medication names, dosages, and how often each is taken, your local pharmacy name, location, and phone number, a list of emergency family contacts, list of allergies, copies of identification cards, insurance cards, power of attorney for healthcare documents, and any other pertinent legal and medical documents.Organizational Tips for caregivers


Valentines Day Blood Donation Challenge

Be A

Be a Love, Donate your Blood!
This Valentines Day, The Pacific Mesothelioma Center invites our supporters to celebrate Valentines Day with us, eat some chocolates, and donate to our International Tissue Bank for Research.
Donations will be collected by PMC Nurse Practitioner Lien Hua-Feng at the PMC office on Santa Monica Blvd, Tuesday, February 14th from 12 pm to 7 pm.

Listen to Nurse Lien’s Tissue Bank Donation Appeal


Event Details:
Date: Tuesday, February 14th, 2017
Time: 12 pm to 7 pm
Location: 10780 Santa Monica Blvd Suite 101, Los Angeles, CA 90025
What You Should Bring: If you can, a filled out health questionnaire  for the researcher.

Information About the Tissue Bank


tissue bankStudies may be performed to test specific characteristics of your normal, tumor, and immune cells, and to determine the activity of novel medications and treatments.The knowledge gained from these studies as well as your tissues may be used to develop new commercial products in the fight against cancer. Click here for more info.


Become An Honorary PHLBI Associate Researcher

Associate Researcher Badge

 Everyone who donates to the PHLBI Tissue Bank for Research gets a pin naming them a “PHLBI Associate Researcher!”


Inquires with the Investigator : Using MSC’s in Placenta’s for Mesothelioma Research


What is a placenta?

A placenta is a flattened circular organ that develops in a woman’s uterus during pregnancy. The placenta attaches to the uterine wall and develops an umbilical cord which is then used to provide oxygen and nutrients to the growing baby while simultaneously removing waste products from the baby’s blood. The day of delivery the expectant mother delivers her baby and her placenta. Placentas are usually thrown out by hospitals after delivery, some mothers elect to keep it and have it made into a pill or shake and eat it, while others decide to donate the placenta for research.


Placenta Donations to The Pacific Mesothelioma Center

Over the last two years The Pacific Mesothelioma Center has received six placenta donations from families. The placentas biological makeup is rich in mesenchymal stem cells which are ideal for advancing the PMC’s research agenda. This past week Lead Research Investigator Raymond Wong received another placenta donation and took the time to share his process harvesting placentas and explaining their intrinsic value to research.


What are you getting out of the placenta and how does it help our research?

Placenta contains mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), a type of cell that normally serves as a reservoir to replenish tissue – primarily fat, cartilage, and bone.  MSCs can be isolated from placenta and expanded to large numbers for laboratory research and also for medical treatment.  MSCs are of interest to medical researchers as they might be useful for treating certain degenerative conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, heart maladies, and even nervous system injuries.  Due to their natural anti-inflammatory properties, MSCs might also be useful for treating inflammatory conditions such as graft-vs-host disease and Crohn’s disease.  For cancer, MSCs are believed to preferentially migrate to malignant tumors.  This opens the possibility that MSCs can be engineered to deliver anti-cancer drugs preferentially to tumors, thereby increasing the potency of anti-cancer drugs while also limiting toxic side effects.  PHLBI is working on engineering MSCs to deliver immune-boosting proteins as a form of immunotherapy.


Explain the significance, if any, of the sex or ethnicity of the baby’s whose placenta is donated?

MSCs harvested and grown from placentas can originate from the mother, the baby, or a mixture of both.  The composition of each batch of MSCs is unpredictable with regard to the exact mixture.  The ethnicity of the mother or baby is unlikely to have significance.  The sex of the baby may influence the level of anti-inflammatory properties of the resulting batch of harvested MSCs.  This might impact the ability of a particular MSC batch to be universally compatible with genetically diverse recipients who are infused with donated MSCs.For reference, the immune system of males vs. females is generally known to be different.  For reference, females have higher incidences of inflammatory disorders, which might suggest that MSCs from a female baby have lower anti-inflammatory properties.  The lower anti-inflammatory properties of female-derived MSCs could possibly make them more prone to being rejected when infused into a genetically unrelated recipient.

newPNG *Pictured above is Lead Investigator Raymond Wong  working on a placenta donation last week in the lab.


Describe the process for getting mesenchymal stem cells out of a placenta? How long does it take?      

 Placentas are first cut into small pieces, and then digested for ~2 hours with an enzyme called collagenase to loosen MSCs.  The resulting mixture of digested placental cells contains a very small percentage of MSCs.  By growing the digested placental cell mixture in specialized nutrients, the small number of MSCs is expanded exponentially to large numbers.  This process results in nearly 100% purified MSCs within 3-4 weeks.


What is the difference between a placenta from a c-section and placenta from natural birth?

Biologically, there is no difference.  The main impact of c-section vs. natural birth is the amount of microbial contaminants on the placenta when it is obtained.  C-section is a sterile surgery, resulting in lower microbial contaminants.  Natural birth passes the placenta through the virginal canal, resulting in a much larger amount of microbial contaminates (yeast, bacteria, fungus, etc).  Nonetheless, our laboratory protocol for harvesting MSCs utilizes anti-fungal and antibiotic drugs to eliminate microbial contaminants.


 How many placenta donations are we looking to have donated each year?                                                              

We have averaged around 2-3 placenta donations each year.


 Are any embryonic stem cells cultivated from the placenta?                                                                                                  

MSCs are not embryonic stem cells.  They are considered “adult” stem cells, meaning they are derived from organs that have already developed (bone marrow, placenta, etc).

For questions, additional information, or inquires about how one can donate their placenta to research contact Lead Investigator Raymond Wong at (310)-474-1113 or by email at : .

Global Images USA Presents An Exclusive Showing of Original Photographic Works & Cocktail Party Event

A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Pacific Mesothelioma Center for its innovative mesothelioma research.

PicMonkey CollageLOS ANGELES, CA, U.S., January 17, 2017 / — On Wednesday, January 25th Global Images USA will host an art gallery viewing and cocktail evening showcasing iconic works from world-renowned photographers at a private Hollywood Hills residence (7044 Los Tilos Ave, Los Angeles, 90068) from 6:30 pm to 9:00 pm. Guests will have the opportunity to enjoy beautiful art works, great company, and award-winning locally brewed beer and cocktails. A portion of proceeds from the sale of these art pieces benefit The Pacific Mesothelioma Center (PMC), a nonprofit medical research institute that focuses on innovative mesothelioma research. Mesothelioma is a devastating form of cancer that results from exposure to asbestos and commonly affects the lining of the chest– the pleura.

This event is geared towards art collectors, photography fans, and old Hollywood aficionados. The prints and original art works for sale cover a broad spectrum of themes, offering something of interest for everyone. The eclectic assortment includes high fashion prints, intimate portraits, behind the scenes of the old Hollywood elite, aerial photography, and conceptual oil and acrylic paintings. There is no admission fee to attend the party. Guests will have the opportunity to purchase these works through a silent auction with a minimum bid and a buy-out option. The lists of artists whose works will be for sale include Helmut Newton, Frank Worth, David LaChapelle, Timothy White, Daniel Furon, Arney Freytag, Stephan Wayda, Ann McFerran, and many more. Additionally, some of the artists will be present at the event, offering perspective and background on their work and personally signing their sold prints.

The Pacific Mesothelioma Center’s Executive Director Clare Cameron shared “We are excited to partake in this wonderful event that brings together the art and the nonprofit world. Furthermore, we are delighted that Global Images USA thought of including us in this lovely evening,” she concluded.

About Global Images USA:
Global Images USA’s goal is to provide high quality, iconic images that complement any taste, location, or budget and provide great customer and artist experience. Their collections have been carefully selected to elicit an emotion that resonates with everyone and are excellently displayed in someone’s home, office, or as a gift.

The Use of Asbestos in Household Items

By Sri Ramakumar

History of Asbestos Use in Homes:

asbestosdanger2Asbestos is a highly prevalent material that has been used in over 5,000 consumer products.  Asbestos, a naturally occurring, fibrous mineral, was valued for its strength and resistance to fire.  However, asbestos is also linked to the development of mesothelioma, a rare and life-threatening cancer of the lining of the lungs, stomach or heart.  Modern uses of asbestos began in the late 19th century, and continue till today.  Asbestos was used extensively in home construction from the early 1940’s through the 1970’s.  In 1975, asbestos was forbidden in the United States for use in fireproofing materials; however, asbestos-containing home attic insulation was still used in houses till 1990.  Even today, contrary to popular belief, asbestos is not completely banned in the United States.  US Federal regulations limit asbestos use, but many commercial and industrial products are allowed to be manufactured with asbestos.  Furthermore, many home building products and consumer goods, especially those produced before 1980, still contain asbestos.


Household Exposure to Asbestos and Mesothelioma:

Individuals can be exposed to asbestos within their own homes.  The link between asbestos exposure in the home and the onset of mesothelioma has been definitively established in family members (primarily wives, but in some cases children) of workers who had high levels of asbestos exposure in their occupations (such as construction, ship-building and repairing, petroleum refining, and mining and manufacture of asbestos products).  Asbestos fibers, usually on the clothing, skin and hair of workers, traveled into the home exposing family members, primarily housewives who laundered clothing.  In fact, these housewives have the second-highest mortality rate from malingnant pleural mesothelioma, after those exposed directly in their occupation.

The development of mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos contained in building materials has been found in several anecdotal studies and lawsuits, which have linked asbestos exposure in school buildings to the development of mesothelioma in some teachers and students.  So far, there aren’t any studies linking exposure to asbestos use in homes and household items to the development of mesothelioma.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have stated that in homes, asbestos that is contained in solid material poses negligible risk of exposure.  In fact, air levels tested around undisturbed asbestos are 0.0002 f/cc, which is over 1000 times lower than OSHA’s permissible limit.  Asbestos exposure in the home becomes an issue only if the fibers are broken and disturbed, releasing them into the air where they can be inhaled.

Asbestos in Home Construction Materials:

asbestos plasterHomes built before 1980 contain a variety of building materials that contain asbestos.  Since then, the United States has regulated the use of asbestos in building materials.  Applications of asbestos that are banned in the US include:  1) Spray-applied surfacing asbestos-containing materials, 2) Wet-applied and pre-formed asbestos pipe insulation, and pre-formed asbestos block insulation on boilers and water-tanks, and 3) Corrugated paper, rollboard, commercial paper, specialty paper, flooring felt and new uses of asbestos.

When asbestos in home building is contained in solid material, it poses little risk.  However, if asbestos is disturbed by repairs, renovation, storm or fire-damage, asbestos fibers can be released into the air, where they are inhaled, creating the risk of mesothelioma and other illnesses.  Therefore, it is important for homeowners to know whether they have any asbestos-containing products in their houses.   Homeowners can contact an asbestos professional to assess their homes for asbestos risk and for containment or removal of asbestos-containing material.  The EPA regional office, local health department or Better Business Bureau in a given area will have a list of certified asbestos professionals.  Once asbestos products have been located, it is important to never saw, cut, use water-jets or burn asbestos-containing materials.  If repairs or renovation are needed, it is best to use an asbestos professional to do the work.  While the average homeowner has a very low risk of asbestos exposure, a homeowner who engages in unsafe renovation of asbestos-containing materials in the home increases his or her risk of exposure to a medium level.

Asbestos can typically be found in the following home construction materials, especially in those homes built before 1980:

  • Exterior:
    • Corrugate Wall and Roof Sheeting
    • Roof Guttering
    • Ridge Capping
    • Imitation Brick Cladding
    • Lining under the eaves
    • Window Glazing
  • Roof:
    • Roof Insulation
    • Base Flashing
    • Felt
    • Shingles
    • Tar or “Black Jack”
  • Electrical Products:
    • Cloth Wire Insulation
    • Electrical Breakers
    • Electric Panel Arc Chutes
    • Electrical Panel Partitions
    • Insulating Cloth
  • Wall Products:
    • Decorative plaster
    • Caulking and Putties
    • Spackling Compounds
    • Vinyl Wall Coverings
    • Wall Penetration Packing Materials
    • Wallboard Joint Compounds
    • Wallboard Sheet Rock
    • Cement Sheet Walls
  • Flooring Products:
    • Asphalt Floor Tiles
    • Carpet Mastic
    • Coving Mastic
    • Floor Tile Mastic
    • Vapor Barriers
    • Vinyl Floor Tiles
    • Vinyl Sheet Flooring (Linoleum)
  • Ceiling Products:
    • Acoustal Plaster
    • Ceiling Panels
    • Ceiling Texture (popcorn ceilings)
    • Ceiling Tiles
    • Ceiling Tile Mastic
  • Heating and Cooling System Products:
    • Fireplace Decoration
    • Boiler Insulation
    • Boiler Breeching Insulation
    • Cooling Towers
    • Duct Work Insulation
    • Gaskets
    • Heat Shields
    • HVAC Vibration Dampeners
    • Pipe Lagging Insulation
    • Pipe Elbow Insulation
    • Tank Insulation
    • Tank Casings


Asbestos in Consumer Household Items:

Asbestos has been used in a variety of commonly purchased consumer items, used in the home.  Consumers should read product labeling or contact the manufacturer to see whether a specific product contains asbestos.  Consumers should also exercise caution when purchasing items from overseas, as other countries still may use asbestos in the production of consumer goods.  For instance, asbestos is not banned in most South American countries, with the exception of Chile, Argentina and some parts of Brazil.  The only countries that have instituted a full of ban of asbestos include: Iceland, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, France, Belgium, Poland, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Slovenia, Italy, Australia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Small Appliances

PicMonkey Collage asbestos products


Many older appliances, especially those manufactured before 1980, contain asbestos. These items can release fibers if they are disturbed or opened up for repair. These appliances include:

  • Hair Dryer
  • Coffee Pots
  • Toasters
  • Popcorn Poppers
  • Crock Pots
  • Irons
  • Portable Heaters
  • Portable Dishwashers

Modern appliances in the United States do not contain asbestos.

Automotive Products

Asbestos is still used in the automotive industry.  Automotive products that contain asbestos include:

  • Brake Linings
  • Brake Pads
  • Clutch Plates

Homeowners who engage in hobbies such as auto repair, may be exposed to asbestos when working on their cars.


Asbestos is naturally occurring in the soil.  Gardening can disturb asbestos filaments, sending them airborne, where they can be inhaled.  In addition, gardening products such as soil conditioners and fertilizers can contain asbestos-contaminated vermiculite.  For this reason, it is recommended that gardeners using these products wet them down to reduce any airborne asbestos filaments.

Other Household Items

Asbestos can be found in the other common household items:

  • Duct Tape (certain brands)
  • Talc Products: baby powder, cosmetics, and feminine hygiene products
  • Chalkboards
  • Vintage Asbestos Snow (fake snow found on Christmas Trees)
  • Crayons (before 1980)
  • Toys (older car racing sets)
  • Children’s Clay
  • Stove Top Pads
  • Yarn (before 1980)
  • Millboard (before 1980)
  • Older Ironing Board Covers
  • Electric Blankets
  • Fireproof Gloves
  • Wood-Burning Stoves
  • Gas-Fired Decorative Fireplace Logs

The variety of products that contain asbestos show that it is still widely used in the United States, and that consumer awareness of the uses of asbestos is vitally important.



Immunotherapy Inquiries

Inquiries with Investigator Raymond Wong : Immunotherapy 

  1. What is immunotherapy and how does it differ from more common types of cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery?

Immunotherapy comprises a class of treatments that activate patients’ immune systems to fight cancer.  In general, immunotherapy is better tolerated by patients and has fewer side effects than chemotherapy, radiation, and other molecular-targeted cancer drugs.  Furthermore, unlike chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery, the beneficial effects of immunotherapy often continue even after stopping treatment.  This is due to establishment of immunologic memory, similar to how preventive vaccines can protect an individual for years/decades after initial immunization.


  1. Why doesn’t the immune system naturally fight cancer?

Under normal circumstances, the immune system routinely detects and destroys cancer cells (even pre-cancerous cells).   Some cancer cells evade detection by the immune system and progress to form tumors.  This process of immune evasion can be rapid (weeks/months), or prolonged (years/decades).  Multiple mechanisms can allow cancer cells to evade the immune system, such as random mutations in cancer cells, and the overall health of the patient.  Scientists are still trying to fully understand how cancer cells evade the immune system.  Improved understanding of cancer immune evasion will help guide the development of new immunotherapies that effectively reverse these mechanisms.


  1. Describe the different types of immunotherapy? Which are the most successful?

Different forms of immunotherapy exist, including vaccines, cytokines, engineered antibodies, and engineered immune cells.  Most immunotherapies are administered intravenously, while some are injected subcutaneously.  The most successfully immunotherapies are immune checkpoint blockers, which are now FDA-approved for multiple cancer types.  Immune checkpoint blockers are engineered antibodies that target specific proteins that impair immune responses against tumors.  The patient’s immune system then becomes more active, sometimes resulting in complete destruction of existing tumors.

Other promising immunotherapies in clinical trials include chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell treatment.  CAR T cells are created by removing T cells from a cancer patient’s circulating blood, engineering them with cancer-targeting receptors, and then re-infusing them back into the patient.  CAR T cells are showing a high cure rate for certain treatment-refractory blood cancers.  However, CAR T cells have limited potency against solid tumors, and side effects can sometimes be severe.  It will likely be years before CAR T cell technology is fully optimized to reduce side effects to acceptable levels.


  1. Which cancers are currently FDA-approved for immunotherapy treatment?

Melanoma, prostate cancer, lung cancer, kidney cancer, bladder cancer, and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  Immunotherapy for other cancer types, like mesothelioma, are typically accessible only through clinical trials.


  1. What is the future of immunotherapy? How do you see it changing cancer treatment in the next five years? 

Currently, there is serious discussion of immune checkpoint blocker immunotherapy moving towards first-line treatment for melanoma and lung cancer.  As clinical trials progress, it is possible that these treatments may also become a first-line treatment option for other cancer types.  Combination immunotherapy, whereby different immunotherapy drugs are used together, is now being actively studied in clinical trials.  In fact, the first combination immunotherapy regimen (nivolumab + ipilimumab) was FDA-approved for melanoma in 2015.  This particular combination, and other combination immunotherapy regimens in development, is likely key to improving patient response rates.

“Future of Mesothelioma Research Lies in Growing Tissue Bank”

By: Matt Mauney

tissue-bank-at-walk-jpgA year after establishing its own tissue bank, the Pacific Heart, Lung & Blood Institute (PHLBI) in California is looking for additional funding and tissue samples to continue research of pleural mesothelioma and other diseases.

Currently, there isn’t an international bank for the collection of tissue.

“We eventually want to be in a position where we can help other researchers around the world,” Clare Cameron, the executive director of PHLBI told “We hope that we’ll get to that point where people will come to us for tissue, but we’re a long way from that right now.”

On Wednesday, the PHLBI will host its annual open house event at its Santa Monica lab. The event is a way to invite patients and their family members as well as people with a history of asbestos exposure to get a tour of the lab and find out more about the services the PHLBI offers.

“This year we’ll actually be able to take blood, buccal swabs and urine samples,” Cameron said. “We’re hoping to be quite successful and hope people will come and feel good about donating to the international tissue bank.”

Collecting Tissue Samples

The PHLBI established the tissue bank in December 2015.

The bank operates in conjunction with UCLA and Dr. Robert Cameron, the director of thoracic surgery at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. Cameron is also the senior medical adviser for the Pacific Mesothelioma Center, a specialized center within PHLBI.

“Dr. Cameron is one of the senior surgeons at UCLA and does a lot of mesothelioma operations there,” Clare Cameron said. “We’re constantly having a flow of tissues that come from these surgeries.”

In the past year, PHLBI’s tissue bank has collected samples from diseased and nondiseased participants, but there is plenty of room for growth, and it starts with more funding and sample donations on a national level.

In addition to planned research projects for mesothelioma, the PHLBI will use the tissue bank to research esophageal cancer, lung cancer and thymoma.

“We’re calling this MELT, because wouldn’t it be nice to melt away these cancers one day,” Clare Cameron said during a presentation about tissue banking at the 6th International Symposium on Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma, held Sept. 24 in Los Angeles.

The Importance of a Tissue Bank

The PHLBI bank is the first unlimited tissue bank in the U.S., meaning it accepts tissue samples from patients of all types as well as samples from healthy participants.

Tissue samples include blood, urine, buccal swab (a way to collect DNA from a person’s cheek), sputum (saliva and mucus coughed up from respiratory tract), exhaled breath, tumors and pleural and pericardial fluid.

Additionally, detailed information from each participant, such as age, gender, medical history and history of exposure (asbestos, smoking, etc.), is critical to make progress and find cures.

Cameron noted that cardiovascular disease and cancer are the leading causes of death in the U.S. and that a tissue bank is needed to study:

  1. The normal biology of diseases
  2. The natural history of diseases
  3. Outcomes from current treatments
  4. Advantages and disadvantages of potential future novel therapies
  5. The secondary objective of the PHLBI is to act as a clinical data and tissue depository for collaborating with investigators worldwide. PHLBI already has a working relationship with UCLA, but they are currently working to extend the relationship to the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs division.

The two most prominent mesothelioma-focused banks are the National Mesothelioma Virtual Bank (NMVB) at the University of Pittsburgh, which is funded by the Centers for Disease Control, and the U.K. Biobank, which is the largest collection of biometric and health data in the world.

An Expensive but Necessary Resource

Collecting specimens from outside banks is expensive and time consuming, so having an internal tissue bank is an invaluable resource for the medical community.

“We can’t really go out and afford to buy this tissue because it’s terribly, terribly expensive,” Cameron said. “Since we’re associated with UCLA and have the Punch Worthington Lab at UCLA, we thought why not see if we can share some of the tissue from UCLA, and that way, it will prevent us from having to go out and pay for the tissue.”

Many tissue banks rely on federal funding. In 2013, the CDC and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) eliminated the annual grant from the NMVB.

In February, NIOSH announced a $5.5 million grant to continue funding the NMVB through 2021.

As a small nonprofit with few resources, the PHLBI relies on philanthropic support of individuals to continue developing new treatment approaches and research future treatment breakthroughs.

Awareness Will Increase Tissue Donations

Receiving tissue samples from UCLA is an important first step to growing the tissue bank, but the PHLBI is currently seeking samples from outside sources. Cameron noted that anyone is able to donate, regardless of where they live.

“Many people are not aware that they can do that, so we have to get the word out,” she said. “There might be people in Texas, on the east coast or in the middle of the country who can send us their samples and information and help us with our research.”

The PHLBI is currently in the process of promoting its presentations from the recent International Symposium of Malignant Pleural Mesothelioma, all in an effort to stress the importance of the tissue bank and need for more resources.

The Future of Mesothelioma Research

PHLBI researchers are now developing new mesenchymal stem cell-based treatments modeled under recent clinical breakthroughs in combination immunotherapy for cancer.

Mesenchymal stem cells are harvested from donated bone marrow, term placentas, umbilical cord blood and fat tissue.

Cameron said UCLA Medical Center is also a valuable resource for placenta samples for the mesenchymal research.

“We have an intellectual property out that will be filed next year,” Cameron said. “We can’t say much about that, but we’re really hopeful that we’re on the right track with mesenchymal stem cells.”

At the symposium, Cameron used data from a U.K. Biobank study to stress the need for prospective studies to be large. The more specimens collected, the more precise the research will be.

“The tissue bank is for us at this stage to help with our mesenchymal cell research program, and then as we build it, and as we grow and get more money, our long-term goal is to go into clinical trials,” she said. “We hope to collect more samples from people exposed to asbestos, both with and without asbestos-related diseases.”

Do You Want to Donate Tissue Samples?

Anyone 18 and older with or without diseases of the lung, heart or blood is eligible to donate blood, urine, saliva or tissue specimens for research. All participants become “associate researchers” and receive a button for donating.

People interested in participating can contact nurse practitioner Lien Hau-Feng at 310-474-8223. Monetary donations can be made by visiting the PHLBI website.

PMC Launches its Year End Appeal to Help Fund Mesothelioma Research

Year End Appeal Letter 2016

Pacific Mesothelioma Center Logo 2015

December 2016

Dear Friend,

Taking stock of the year that is ending is a traditional ritual.  For the Pacific Mesothelioma Center (PMC) at The Pacific Heart, Lung & Blood Institute (PHLBI), it’s about the incredible lives that have touched us, people from all parts of the world and professions, and life stories.   We think of the progress we have made in our research laboratory and the innovative ideas generated by our researchers.  We remember the fundraisers where we’ve shared so much more than an event.  And we remember those who are struggling in their fight against mesothelioma as well as their families.

We are entering a new age of cancer treatment with immunotherapy, a new type of cancer treatment that works by using the body’s immune system to fight cancer cells. An immunotherapy drug was used as part of former president Jimmy Carter’s successful treatment for advanced melanoma.  We are hoping to mirror this success by rigorously testing novel prototypes of mesenchymal stem cell therapies engineered to enhance immune responses against cancer.  The long-term goal of The PMC is to develop a wide array of mesenchymal stem cell treatments that can be scaled up for immunotherapy to fight a whole host of cancers. We anticipate that someday it might be feasible to use the products of our research in treating solid tumors, such as breast, pancreatic, and colon cancer, as well as diffuse cancers such as mesothelioma and large B cell lymphoma.

Two donors have very generously offered to sponsor our matching gift program for contributions we receive up to $100,000 between now and December 31st.  So please, make your gift today and it will be worth twice as much! You can enable us to research and develop solutions twice as fast!   If you would like to contribute to our annual appeal, please make an online donation at: or mail a donation in the self-addressed envelope enclosed.  Please note that all donations are tax deductible.

With you by our side, we hope to fulfill our joint dream of finding a cure for mesothelioma and other life-threatening cancers. Your charitable contributions are most welcome and appreciated.

Thank you for your commitment to PMC over the years and for your renewed generosity. On behalf of our patients and their families, may we wish you a Happy Holiday Season.  We are honored to have you on our team.


Clare Cameron

Executive Director


5th Annual 5K Walk/Hike for Meso Raises Over $122,000 for Mesothelioma Research

LOS ANGELES, CA , U.S., November 17, 2016 / — The Pacific Mesothelioma Center at the Pacific Heart, Lung & Blood Institute celebrated the fifth anniversary of its annual 5K Walk/Hike for Meso on Oct. 23rd 2016, at the Paramount Ranch. With over 350 walkers, the event raised $122,000 to find better treatments for malignant pleural mesothelioma, an asbestos-related form of cancer. Mesothelioma affects almost 3,000 people in the US each year, one third of whom are veterans.

Presented by Worthington & Caron, P.C, the event brought together people who can personally relate to the cause. Twenty four teams, consisting of family members and friends of those who have mesothelioma, as well as supporting organizations and individual walkers, gathered at the park at 9 a.m. for check-in and team photos. Each registrant received a free T-shirt before leaving on the 5K or 1-mile hike.

The walkers had an opportunity to test their memory skills by remembering the many “meso awareness” statements dotted around the course. The first 10 correct answers received AMC movie tickets.

After the Walk, participants enjoyed a catered lunch by local Agoura Hills favorite Italia Deli. The event also offered David’s Tea, Duverger Macaroons, Monster energy drinks, Mustache Mike’s Italian Ice and a concert by The Six Billion Dollar Band. The live auction featured items such as a photo safari for two in South Africa and a VIP LA Dodgers package. The silent auction and opportunity drawing featured items such as gift baskets, dining and adventure certificates and weekend getaways.

Prior to the day of the event, participants were also encouraged to fundraise on their own and compete for an engraved Top Fundraising Team award. Besides asking for donations, some teams took a creative route in raising their funds and awareness for the cause, such as a Pasta Party by Team Jarvis, and a Powerball at Captain’s Treasure Chest by Team Ganoe.

Many walk to honor those they have lost to this devastating disease. Returning walker Jennipher Baeza states “Research for this cancer is extremely underfunded, and by walking, not only do we raise money for research, we also raise awareness. My dad, like many others, suffered in a way that no one should have to, and I hope one day that no family or individual has to live through the devastating effects of mesothelioma. I participate in this walk each year because I made a promise to my dad before he passed away that I will continue his fight”.