Dr. Michele Carbone

Wednesday - October 22, 2008
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After years of research and saving residents of a Turkish village from repeated illness and death from mesothelioma (a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos and other particles), Dr. Michele Carbone jested about the Turks naming a street after him, “but I have not seen it to know that it is true,” he said in a December 2006 MidWeek cover story. There’s still no word on the street, but the Turkish government did, however, build a hospital near the rural village for the scientist and his team to continue research to find the causes behind the disease that afflicts people from Turkey to Honolulu.

“This village is out in the middle of nowhere,” says Carbone in a thick Italian accent. He elaborates how the people in the small village of Cappadocia live in an impoverished area where homes are built into the sides of mountains and hills. The problem could end there, but inside the rocks the villagers used to build their homes are particles similar to asbestos. As a result, many people in the village have been dying of mesothelioma.

Carbone previously discovered, through his research, that many of the people who develop mesothelioma are genetically predisposed to develop the cancer.

Carbone convinced the Turkish government not only to build them a new village with modern conveniences, but also a hospital where he, along with a group of Turkish physicians, could monitor the villagers’ conditions and further his research. “It was a great experience,” he says. “To see that you can make a difference - you know, we always think that we can’t make a difference, and that nothing is going to happen because we are used to complaining, talking and then nothing happens. And to in fact see that you can make an impact, it is something that drives you, that motivates you to try to do more.”

Carbone recently received the Landon Foundation-AACR (American Association for Cancer Research) award, which came with a $100,000 prize - and a lot of prestige. “There were 80 teams from across the world, and we won,” he says. “So that put us in the spotlight for cancer research, because our research team was regarded as the best in the world.”

The scientist brings in more than $9 million a year in research funds from public and private sources, but with the current economy he finds this number shrinking by 5 to 6 percent every year.

Carbone directs a vibrant group of scientists and doctors from around the globe with some of the best technology available for the job at UH John A. Burns School of Medicine.


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