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Asbestos Research

A New Research Foundation Battles an Old Nemesis

For years asbestos related diseases have afflicted the United Association's membership. One such disease is Mesothelioma, a malignant tumor that aggressively invades the lining of the lungs, abdomen and heart. Although the major sources of exposure were supposedly removed from industry usage more than 25 years ago, 2,500 to 4,000 people are diagnosed with Mesothelioma annually. The majority of these cases are from the building trades, a large percentage of which are UA members and their families. Family members are exposed when the fibers are brought home in the working member's clothes and hair.

Little has been done to find an effective treatment for this incurable disease. Historically the tumor has been accepted as fatal with limited treatment options. Since Mesothelioma has a latency period of 15 to 50 years, asbestos exposure from the 1970's or earlier may lead to the continuing diagnosis of Mesothelioma for another two decades.

The federal government currently contributes $3.36 billion to the National Institute of Health for cancer research. None of that money is spent on potentially life-saving clinical trials for Mesothelioma patients.

Several months ago during a discussion between Local 230 Financial Secretary –Treasurer Steve Vealey and attorney Jerry Neil Paul, from the law firm of Paul & Hanley, Jerry Paul voiced his wish to find someone to help him set up and run a foundation to fund research to find a cure for Mesothelioma. Brother Vealey immediately volunteered to head up the organization. Thus the Mesothelioma Research Foundation of America was established. The initial Board Members are Jerry Neil Paul, Esq. Founding Director, Steve Vealey, Executive Director, United Association International Representative James W. Kellogg, Board Member, and Dr. Parkash Gill M.D. Chairman of the Medical Advisory Board.

Jerry Paul provided $200,000 as start up funding for the Foundation and on June 28 of this year presented an initial $100,000 research grant to the University of Southern /Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, USC/Norris was chosen because of Dr. Gill's expertise in developing cancer therapies for some hard to treat types of cancers. Dr. Gill is conducting research on identification of genes/proteins that cause growth of tumor cells and blood vessels feeding the tumors. He has discovered compounds that show great promise in animal models of cancer. He has established a comprehensive program for the treatment of Mesothelioma. The team includes pathologists who are specialized in making the correct diagnosis, chest surgeons who may be able to remove the cancer surgically in suitable cases, and cancer specialists who will work to develop innovative therapies.

Treatment will fall into three categories. The direct targeting of tumor cells, therapies that block the growth of blood vessels that nourish tumor cells and finally therapies that stimulate the bodies immune system to fight cancer. Initial results in the laboratory have been encouraging. Dr. Gill hopes to be in clinical trials and treating patients by the end of the year.

Nearly 30 years of asbestos litigation – running into millions of dollars spent each year- has passed with virtually no research on the treatment and cure of Mesothelioma. Would not some of this time and money be better invested in finding a cure?

The fund raising sources of the Foundation are simple. They are the companies and law firms involved in asbestos litigation, UA Local Unions across the country, spouses, friends and family members who give in the name of loved ones taken by Mesothelioma.