Manchester researchers to tackle asbestos-related cancer with major European research grant

Researchers at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT) will benefit from a £5 million European research award to fight malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM), an incurable cancer of the lining of the lung caused by asbestos.

The award will support the PREDICT-Meso (Pre-malignant drivers combined with target-drug validation in mesothelioma) project, led by The University of Glasgow, which will establish an international network of researchers across the UK, Spain and Italy. Together teams hope to better understand how MPM develops from its early stages, and translate this into better screening and treatments for patients.

The funding comes from Cancer Research UK’s Accelerator Awards programme, in collaboration with European partners Fondazione AIRC and Asociación Española Contra el Cáncer (AECC). The scheme funds international projects to accelerate lifesaving cancer research through new research tools, resources, and infrastructure to improve scientists’ understanding of cancer.

The UK has the highest MPM incidence in the world, with around 2,600 people diagnosed every year. It is caused when tiny asbestos fibres get stuck inside the lungs, causing damage over time. The disease develops slowly over several decades, with most diagnoses between the ages of 60 and 80. However, the factors that drive its development are poorly understood by clinicians.

MPM is often difficult to treat. Depending on how advanced the spread of disease is, treatments can include chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery. At advanced stages, treatments often focus on controlling symptoms or palliative care.

Global cases of MPM are expected to rise rapidly in the coming years, particularly in BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries, where asbestos mining and its use in construction is heaviest.

PREDICT-Meso will be led by clinician scientist Professor Kevin Blyth, Honorary Professor at The University of Glasgow’s Institute of Cancer Sciences. Research in Manchester will be led by Dr Matthew Evison, Lung Cancer Physician, and Honorary Professor, Dr Klaus Irion, Consultant Chest Radiologist, through the TORCH (Thoracic Oncology Research Hub) team at Wythenshawe Hospital, part of MFT

Find out more about PREDICT-Meso

One of the main ambitions of this long-term study is to better understand how mesothelioma first develops which might, in the future, lead to ways of preventing it from ever happening. The study will utilise state-of-the-art technology to screen patients, identify appropriate drug treatments, and monitor their response.

Selected patients in Manchester who have previously been exposed to asbestos will be offered a number of novel methods including blood and breath tests, and potentially biopsies throughout the study period to monitor for any signs of mesothelioma.

Manchester will also receive around £300k of the £5 million funding for the project, to lead the development of MRI imaging to screen and monitor the disease during treatment. The MRI imaging study, led by Professor Blyth, will be expanded to various centres in the UK and abroad, including Oxford, Germany and Brazil, who will also support collection of imaging data for MPM patients.

Dr Matthew Evison, Lung Cancer Physician at Wythenshawe Hospital said: “Wythenshawe Hospital is home to the North West Lung Centre, which is the regional centre for chest diseases and mesothelioma. This hospital provides advanced diagnostic tests and a broad range of treatments and research trials for mesothelioma.

Our team includes specialist radiologists, pathologists, physicians, surgeons, oncologists, and specialist nurses, who deliver a multi-disciplinary mesothelioma service. This places Wythenshawe Hospital in an ideal position to be part of this international collaboration.

“We’re really excited to receive this funding for PREDICT-Meso, and look forward to working with colleagues in Glasgow and the other European centres, to better understand MPM and bring about better care and treatments to patients both in the UK and abroad.”

Dr Klaus Irion, Consultant Chest Radiologist at Wythenshawe Hospital added:

This recognises the excellence of our MFT researchers, chest physicians, thoracic surgeons and thoracic radiologists, who will lead the imaging component of this exciting and important project.

“Support from our TORCH team was pivotal to the success of this application, as was the experience of research colleagues like Dr Evison and our Hospital Research and Innovation Manager, Dr Juliette Novasio.”

Mandy Bailey, Chief Executive of Wythenshawe Hospital, said: “Wythenshawe Hospital is a leading research centre for lung cancer and other respiratory diseases, with screening strategies such as Lung Health Checks developed here and now being trialled across the UK.

This is fantastic news for the TORCH team, and shows our commitment to delivering the best care and treatment for our patients, through international research and collaboration.

Professor Blyth said: “It’s been difficult to build a network of scientists, with enough cases of the disease to build a thorough understanding of how to best treat mesothelioma, and this has left people with the disease very few treatment options. 

“In the future it’s likely that the global incidence of mesothelioma will continue to increase, as there are many countries that still don’t regulate the use of asbestos, so it’s important to build a research community now and improve our understanding to help those affected by this cancer.”

Dr Iain Foulkes, executive director of research and innovation at Cancer Research UK, said: “If current trends continue, the world will see a 60% increase in cancer cases over the next two decades. Cancer is a global problem and no one country can tackle it alone.

“This partnership will also strengthen UK cancer research by the sharing of expertise, new technologies and research talent.”