MARF announces Mesothelioma Symposium

29 May 2008 by under Events, Organizations

The Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation (MARF) will hold its International Symposium on Malignant Mesothelioma 2008 in Washington, D.C., June 26-28. The annual event highlights the latest advances in research and treatment for patients and caregivers, offers psychosocial support to them as well as those who have lost someone to the disease, and provides significant advocacy and volunteer opportunities for those who are intent on eradicating mesothelioma.

According to Rob Grayson, director of marketing for the Meso Foundation, the event actually started as a purely scientific event, geared toward researchers and scientists, with technical presentations. However, at the time, there were no informational or educational events like it, and they found that patients, families and caregivers wanted to attend.

“Initially, these people would come and sit in on these high-level presentations by scientists, with very technical presentations. We saw the interest and our meeting has now evolved into more of a patient meeting, the scientists speak in more layman’s terms, and we’ve added programs to reach out to people who are also interested in the community of support and the activism that takes place,” Grayson said.

The advocacy element is a new piece of the symposium, added last year when the meeting coincided with debate in the Senate on the Ban Asbestos in America Act, S. 742, sponsored by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA).

“The day we lobbied, they took an administrative vote, and it passed in the Senate. So we’re going back to Washington this year,” Grayson said.

Advocacy efforts this year will include a rallying cry to the House of Representatives to move quickly to pass the legislation in the House, which bans asbestos and provides research funding for mesothelioma. Last week, the Foundation issued an action alert in support of The Bruce Vento Ban and Prevent Act of 2007 (H.R. 3339), the companion to the Senate bill. The bill includes $10 million for mesothelioma research.

“Normally we’d hold the Symposium in a different city each year, but it’s almost the same timing as last year, with the bill pending, this time in the House, so we’re back to Washington,” Grayson explained.

Those attending the Symposium can register to participate in the advocacy efforts, and the Meso Foundation will arrange for them to meet personally with their congressional delegate, and will provide a training session to help advocates prepare for the meeting.

In addition to lobbying for passage of the House bill, Symposium advocates will request that the Senate’s Defense Appropriations Subcommittee maintain, for the second year, mesothelioma’s eligibility to compete for medical research funding from the Department of Defense. In 2007, the appropriated $50 million and included mesothelioma as a research priority for its Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program, effective in the 2008 budget. The Meso Foundation is working for continuing and increasing funds for research in the 2009 defense appropriations bill.

“There currently is no ban on asbestos, so companies can use it however they see fit. We’ve pretty much stopped mining here, but asbestos is still used in about 3,000 products that you could go out and buy right now. Even if we banned asbestos tomorrow, it probably won’t change the rate of sickness for the next 50 years, due to the latency period of asbestos. That’s why the funding for research is so important,” Grayson says. “Advocacy and the call for a ban on asbestos raises awareness, and raises money for research, which is what we need to deal with the illness itself,” he said.

In addition to advocacy, the Symposium again will feature an educational program, with sessions covering topics including Peritoneal Mesothelioma, Pleural Meso Surgical Options, Emerging Therapies, Optimizing Patient Care, and Scientific Advances in Meso Research. Other educational programs will provide instruction on outreach topics including volunteerism, fundraising, peer support and advocacy, to help those who want to make a difference learn how to be most effective.

A Gala Dinner will honor those people living with meso, and recognize outstanding volunteers and advocates for their hard work and dedication to raising awareness. The dinner will feature a unique guest speaker – Seventh grader Lexi Miletto, the granddaughter of Joseph Miletto, who died in 2005 of peritoneal mesothelioma.

Scholarships for Symposium registration fees, as well as for transportation and accommodations, are still available for patients, family members and caregivers who would like to attend. Contact the Meso Foundation at www.curemeso.org or call 805-563-8400 for details.

The Mesothelioma Foundation was started in 1999, by attorney Roger Worthington. Unfortunately, Grayson says, there was an initial stigma because of his association, with people suspicious the Foundation was attempting to gather clients for his firm, so he removed himself from the Board of Directors and the Foundation was re-established as a non-profit, 501(c)3 organization. Today, with 8 staff members, the organization raises $2.5 million annually and funds more than $1 million in research projects.

“Currently, most of our funding goes to seed money to help researchers who have good ideas for treatment to validate their work, and take it to the NIH to get additional funding for the next step of the research,” Grayson explained. “We hope very soon that we’ll be able to fund clinical trials.”

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