The Pacific Mesothelioma Center at the Pacific Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Los Angeles
The Pacific Mesothelioma Center (PMC) was created as a division of the Pacific Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (PHLBI) in 2012 to serve as a dedicated research and treatment facility for pleural mesothelioma. The PHLBI was first founded in 2002 as a non-profit research institution with the goals of developing new treatments, early diagnostic techniques, and preventative steps for diseases of the blood, heart, and lungs.
The PMC is focused on pleural mesothelioma and is dedicated to helping the growing number of people being diagnosed with this cancer. The Center partners with the University of California’s Los Angeles Comprehensive Mesothelioma Center and the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The science advisor for the PMC, Dr. Robert Cameron, is a noted mesothelioma expert and advocate for lung-sparing treatments.
About the Pacific Mesothelioma Center
The Pacific Mesothelioma Center is a unique facility in that it is dedicated to a rare disease, and only one type, pleural mesothelioma. It is also special because when it was established in 2012 it was the only fully in-house medical research lab. All the research the experts and scientists do at the PMC is done right in the Los Angeles facility.
The PMC is also unique in its ultimate and underlying mission, which is to find a cure for mesothelioma. Not many research institutions set out to achieve such a lofty goal. Mesothelioma, of all cancers is among the most difficult to treat and to cure it would be a major source of hope and inspiration for many. While this is the ultimate goal of the PMC, the more immediate goal is to conduct innovative research and to provide patients with the kind of care that gives them longer lives with a greater quality of life.
Dr. Robert Cameron
Dr. Robert Cameron is a leading expert, recognized throughout the world medical community, in the diagnosis and treatment of mesothelioma. He is a cardiothoracic surgeon and a professor of surgery at the University of California, Los Angeles and also serves as the scientific advisor for the PMC. He also directs the school’s mesothelioma program at the David Geffen School of Medicine and is the chief of thoracic surgery for the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs Hospital.
Dr. Cameron is a proponent and outspoken advocate of treating pleural mesothelioma with less-invasive surgeries whenever possible and without removing a lung. Other surgeons and experts in mesothelioma perform a radical surgery on some patients called an extrapleural pneumonectomy. It is a difficult and risky surgery that remove one lung. Dr. Cameron believes it should never be performed because it is too risky, it greatly reduces quality of life, and he claims that it is not more effective than lung-sparing surgeries.
In his career he has not just spoken out against the removal of a lung from patients with mesothelioma; he has also been instrumental in developing an alternative procedure, the pleurectomy/decortication procedure. This procedure removes much of the tissue in a patient’s chest cavity, but spares the lung. It is often also followed by rounds of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or both.
Under Dr. Cameron’s direction the PMC conducts research that helps to advance the knowledge of pleural mesothelioma, make earlier diagnoses, and treat patients in ways that increase their life expectancies while also maintaining a good quality of life. One important area of research at the PMC is immunotherapy. This is a strategy for treating cancer that uses the patient’s immune system to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.
The PMC’s research broadly falls into two categories. The first is developing targeted therapies. These are drugs or biologic compounds that are specifically designed to target an individual’s cancer cells. The idea of the PMC is to use these compounds along with pleurectomy/decortication surgery to make pleural mesothelioma more of a manageable, chronic illness, and one that patients can actually survive. The second category of research is designed to develop ways of preventing mesothelioma from forming in the body.
Treating Mesothelioma Patients
Research is a big part of what the experts at the PMC do, but the Center is also dedicated to actually treating patients. All treatment here is based on each individual’s needs, but it is also focused on lung-sparing surgery and a multimodal approach that uses both the surgery and other treatments. These others may be chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, or other more innovative treatments.
Patients at the PMC may also participate in clinical trials. These are studies that help the researchers determine if new treatments are safe and effective, but they also give patients the opportunity to benefit from new treatments that have not yet been approved. The doctors at the PMC help patients decide if participating in a clinical trial makes sense or if it is too risky. Regardless of the specific treatment plan designed for a patient, the underlying philosophy of treatment at the PMC is to treat mesothelioma as a chronic illness.
Working with Veterans
Because of its affiliation with the West Los Angeles Veterans Affairs Medical Center, the PMC does a lot of work with veterans. U.S. veterans, especially Navy veterans have some of the highest rates of mesothelioma among all populations. This is because the military used asbestos heavily for decades. It was used in vehicles and aircraft and in barracks and other buildings, but it was particularly heavily used in ships in the Navy. Asbestos was used so heavily because it could add important fireproofing and strength to ships without adding a lot of extra weight.
Now, because of that use of asbestos, thousands of veterans have developed pleural mesothelioma and other related asbestos illnesses. Through the VA and the PMC veterans have the option to get care from the leading experts in mesothelioma, including Dr. Robert Cameron and his colleagues. The West Los Angeles VA facility has been partnering with UCLA since 1988 and the addition of the PMC adds even more treatment options for these veterans.
The Pacific Mesothelioma Center is a special and important center for mesothelioma research and for treatment of patients. The work being conducted here is not only advancing the knowledge of mesothelioma and how to treat it, but is actually extending people’s lives and helping them enjoy better qualities of life.
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