MedUni Vienna: Consequences of asbestos – new laboratory installed for research into pleural cancer

In the last few years the health-damaging effects of asbestos have led to an increase in pleural cancers. A new interdisciplinary research laboratory at the Comprehensive Cancer Center of the Medical University of Vienna and the Vienna General Hospital is set to lead to scientific advances in treatment.

At the Comprehensive Cancer Center Vienna of the Medical University of Vienna and the Vienna General Hospital interdisciplinary research collaboration with a focus on translational thoracic oncology has been in place for some years. In addition to lung cancer, the main focus is on pleural mesothelioma (pleural cancer). Michael Grusch from the Institute for Cancer Research at the MedUni Vienna says: "Until recently, pleural mesothelioma was regarded as a rare disease. Unfortunately, this is changing now. One of the main causes triggering the disease is asbestos. The long incubation period for this disease means that the damage done 20, 30 years ago is just coming to light now. A reputable study predicts that, by 2029, 250,000 people will die of pleural cancer in Europe."

Says thoracic surgeon Mir Alireza Hoda: "We are very struck by the fact that we are increasingly seeing younger patients between 30 and 50 years old. Earlier it mainly affected people over 65." Pleural mesothelioma is treated with a combination of chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy. Says Hoda: "Our goal is to find markers for mesothelioma and to develop personalised approaches to treatment. There still aren’t any but they would help us to select the right treatments for the patients affected." This could have a decisive impact on improving the success of treatment as, at present, the average survival rate after diagnosis is nine to twelve months.

The collaboration between the Clinical Department of Thoracic Surgery at the University Department of Surgery at the MedUni Vienna and the Vienna General Hospital and the Institute for Cancer Research at the MedUni Vienna has existed for five years within the framework of the Comprehensive Cancer Centers (CCC) Vienna. With a series of papers published in top publications and a unique cell culture bank, the ambitious team of experts have attracted attention, even at international level. It now has its own research laboratory of recent date, which is based in the Anna-Spiegel-Research Building: the laboratory for translational thoracic oncology.

First thoracic tumour cell bank
In order to be better able to understand pleural cancer, the laboratory staff have created one of the largest cell culture banks in this field worldwide. Here not only blood and tissue samples are being collected but also cell cultures established. This enables the scientists to conduct comprehensive functional investigations on proteins and genes. Says molecular biologist Balazs Hegedüs: "Our work is very broadly based. We are working on all aspects of the disease from the genetics right through to the assessment of treatments. Thus we can now check findings from the clinic in the laboratory and, by the same token, apply the results of this basic research directly in the clinic. We therefore do not have a separation between basic research and clinical research. This ensures fertile soil for new developments."

International success
The researchers' results are on par with those being achieved internationally. Numerous papers published in top journals, some grants and prizes successfully attracted, as well as research collaborations, are evidence of the group’s productivity. Great importance is placed on international collaborations, for example with the universities of Sydney, Zürich, Zagreb, Budapest or Phoenix, Arizona. Says Walter Klepetko, Head of the Department of Thoracic Surgery: "As a result of our work we have managed to put our facility on the map internationally and position ourselves as a highly competent centre of excellence. Our goal is to become the contact for pleural cancer in Central and Eastern Europe. The rising number of national and international patients demonstrates that we are on the right path."

Cancer Research Run on 4 October
Participation in the Cancer Research Run organised by the Cancer Research Initiative will serve to demonstrate personal commitment in the fight against cancer. In 2013 more than 3,000 participants and numerous friends and family members gathered for the mass run. The more than 70,000 Euros made in revenue last year was entirely ploughed into innovative research projects at the MedUni Vienna in the fight against cancer. The Cancer Research Run is taking place on 4th October 2014 from 10.00 a.m. to 2.00 p.m. on the "Old General Hospital" campus of the university.

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