Associate Professor Tony George of the ithree institute at the University of Technology, Sydney has developed a potential mesothelioma treatment made from a compound he and his researchers discovered. The treatment has potential to halt the cancer’s progression.
The compound works by short-circuiting the pathways to cell death caused by asbestos fibers. With human cell cultures, this stopped the symptoms typical of asbestos exposure such as harmful oxygen radical levels.
During a 30-week pre-clinical laboratory trial on mice, mesothelioma tumors stopped growing in 60-80% of the tested cases. This was after two years of cellular-level laboratory work, which demonstrated how the immune-suppression of asbestos was halted by the compound. At that time, the body’s defense system could begin to fight back against the asbestos fibers.
Dr. George hopes the treatment will become a puffer-administered medication to help the large number of Australians suffering from this fatal asbestos-related disease.
In fact, the highest rates of mesothelioma cancer occur in Australia, Belgium, and Great Britain with an average of 30 cases per million people. In Australia in particular, 700 people die from mesothelioma per year and rates have continued to increase since the 1960s.
Originally, most exposure was on-the-job, especially in the mining and manufacturing industries. But now most cases have been found to be a result of DIY home renovators.
“We think the compound could be used through a puffer or nebulizer, just like those used with asthma, where it could either prevent the fibers taking hold in people exposed to asbestos, or improve the condition for people suffering now,” said Dr. George.
Mesothelioma cancer is caused by exposure to asbestos fibers. The fibers become lodged in the lung’s lining and cause inflammation. After exposure, diagnosis could take 20-50 years, also known as the latency period, when tumors begin to form in the mesothelium layer.
Dr. George and his team of co-researchers have a patent pending on the compound and are partnering with SPARK Sydney mentors in hopes that a pharmaceutical company can create the treatment within the next five years.
“We selected Dr. George’s project because it satisfies an important, unmet need and we think in two years, with our support and mentoring, he should be able to get to a proof of a concept that will be taken up by a pharmaceutical company,” said SPARK Sydney director Michael Wallach. “The program emulates a successful Stanford Medical School model and aims to get research benefits to patients more effectively.”
Unfortunately, most people don’t live past nine months after diagnosis. Even with the strongest chemotherapy, life expectancy can only be increased by a mere three months. There are hopes the compound could also be combined with chemo to produce better outcomes for patients much sooner rather than later.