International Mesothelioma Conference 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



The 12th International Conference of the International Mesothelioma Interest Group 2014 (IMIG 2014) took place in Cape Town, South Africa on October 21-24, 2014.1 Despite the rather remote location, hundreds of clinicians, researchers, academics, scientists and others took part in proceedings which included plenary presentations, workshops and poster discussions. Features which were added to this year’s event included a social advocacy panel and exhibitions by local community activists from former asbestos mining areas engulfed by a deadly legacy which endangers the health of all those who live, work and visit the areas.


IMIG2014 Chair Dr. Jim te WaterNaude opens the conference.

From rather small beginnings, IMIG has grown to be recognized as the premier biennial calendar fixture for mesothelioma experts. The success of the IMIG event was this year underscored by the presence at the meeting in Cape Town of a U.S. toxicologist David Bernstein who has undertaken commissions for Canadian, Brazilian, U.S. and other asbestos stakeholders. He was not the only asbestos industry delegate at IMIG. Dr Markus Heitz from Becon (Switzerland) also attended; Becon is the holding company for the Swiss Eternit company. Also present was a former employee of Everite, a South African asbestos-cement company which in 2002 made the transition to asbestos-free technology.

As far as we know, the industry affiliations of these individuals were not known to IMIG delegates although Bernstein did include an acknowledgment on his poster presentation that it had been funded by “Honeywell International Inc.” The title of the poster, which listed five co-authors with Bernstein as the lead author, was: “The evaluation of the biopersistence, pathological response and pleural translocation of chrysotile containing brake dust in comparison to crocidolite asbestos following short term inhalation exposure.” The first of the four conclusions was the finding that: “No significant pathological response was observed at any time point in the brake dust of chrysotile/brake dust exposure groups in either the lung or pleural cavity.”


It is pertinent to note that the abstract Bernstein submitted for consideration by the IMIG organizers did not include an acknowledgement of industry support.

The 160+ oral presentations, 30 poster discussions and 150 posters over the three day event covered mesothelioma developments in epidemiology, immunotherapy, surgery, preclinical trials, personalized therapy, radiotherapy, pathology, immunology, molecular therapy, imaging, multimodality treatments, molecular genetics, biomarkers, novel therapeutics, social advocacy, nursing and supportive care. Reflecting on IMIG2014, incoming IMIG President Professor Dean Fennell noted the lack of progress in treatment options over the last twelve years and welcomed “the signals for new approaches to treatments” reported in Cape Town.2 He highlighted exciting developments reported by IMIG speakers in neoadjuvant therapy, immunology and antibody research, emphasizing the need to develop a standard of care for patients in the relapse setting. Data awaited from recently completed UK randomized trials in the 2nd line setting might inform this discussion.

As many of the IMIG2104 sessions were run concurrently, it was important to make strategic choices about which discussions to attend. During the epidemiology session on October 22, remarks by Julian Peto about the low risk posed by human exposure to chrysotile proved contentious; despite his stated position, the final slide in his presentation concluded with the following statement:

“Chrysotile should be banned worldwide because:

(1) It causes lung cancer
(2) It’s not needed – the EU ban did no economic damage.”

It is relevant to note that Professor Peto is part of a controversial research initiative – Historical cohort study of cancer mortality following exposure to chrysotile asbestos at the Uralasbest plant in Asbest, Russian Federation – mounted by personnel from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and Russian scientists with proven links to asbestos vested interests.3 At the October 23 epidemiology session, Dr. Jock McCulloch’s presentation: Asbestos Blues: A History of Asbestos Mining in South Africa contained evidence of the corruption of asbestos science. Checks issued by the U.S. law firm of Nelson, Mullins, Riley & Scarborough, representing asbestos defendants, to Dr. Christopher Wagner, the scientist widely credited with having discovered the relationship between pleural mesothelioma and asbestos exposure, were shown.


Filmed highlights from the conference included the plenary session address by the Coordinator of the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat Laurie Kazan-Allen, in the category designated “Best of IMIG 2014.”4


Other filmed IMIG sessions or interviews which would be of interest to ban asbestos campaigners include segments with nursing specialist Liz Darlison,5 campaigners Sophia Kisting6 and Kathleen Ruff.7

At the end of IMIG2014, the winning bid for IMIG2016 was announced. In contention were conferences in Paris, Antwerp and Birmingham. To the delight of the UK organizing committee, the event was awarded to Birmingham.

October 29, 2014


1 IMIG website:

2 Prof. Dean Fennell summarizes highlights of iMig 2014 in Cape Town, South Africa.

3 Kazan-Allen L. The Lancet Highlights IARC Controversy. February 1, 2013.

4 Best of iMig 2014 - Laurie Kazan-Allen Presents on The Global Asbestos Landscape.
For other Best of iMig 2014 see:

5 Interview with Liz Darlison.

6 Presentation by Sophia Kisting.

7 Interview with Kathleen Ruff.



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