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Medical Center Pulmonoligist Receives Grant to Research Cure for Asbestos-Related Cancer

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center lung-disease specialist Jill Ohar, M.D., will take part in a national research project as part of the search for a cure for an asbestos-related cancer called mesothelioma.

Mesothelioma is a lethal, severely painful cancer than afflicts about 3,000 Americans annually. The project is supported with money raised by the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (MARF), a national non-profit organization formed in 1999 to eradicate mesothelioma as a life-threatening disease.

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer in which malignant (cancerous) cells are found in the mesothelium, a protective sac that covers most of the body’s internal organs. Most people who develop mesothelioma have worked on jobs where they inhaled asbestos particles.

Ohar received $100,000 from MARF to analyze an array of clinical and genetic differences between those who develop mesothelioma and those who do not, and to develop a profile of high-risk individuals. Her two-year study aims to improve mesothelioma treatment and survival by early diagnosis.

“Mesothelioma is often first misdiagnosed as congestive heart failure or pneumonia, and often only after treatment attempts for these conditions have failed is the correct diagnosis made,” said Ohar. “As a result of the late diagnosis, treatment options and effectiveness are limited.”

Ohar helped develop what is likely the nation's largest medical database of asbestos-exposed individuals. By comparing the individuals within this group who developed mesothelioma against those who did not, she hopes to develop a profile of clinical and genetic characteristics that define a population at highest risk for mesothelioma.

She will analyze clinical variables such as symptoms, gender, age, education, income, age at first exposure to asbestos, latency (period after exposure until the development of asbestosis, a respiratory disease caused by inhaling asbestos fibers), occupational history, personal and family history of malignancy, emphysema and asthma. Ohar will also analyze the genetic makeup of the different individuals for the presence of susceptibility genes.

“We believe that identifying these clinical and genetic characteristics that lead to high mesothelioma risk should enable earlier detection and treatment of mesothelioma, resulting in more prolonged survival or cure,” she said.

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Media Contacts: Jim Steele, jsteele@wfubmc.edu, Shannon Koontz, shkoontz@wfubmc.edu, or Karen Richardson, krchrdsn@wfubmc.edu, at 336-716-4587.

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