A Kiwi professor has developed a new treatment which may be the answer to helping those diagnosed with asbestos lung cancer.
Associate Professor at the University of Sydney Medical School Dr Glen Reid has spent the past few years working on research for a new treatment for mesothelioma - lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.
Dubbed TargomiRs, the treatment uses tiny cells loaded with a microRNA, which is deficient in mesothelioma.
Those tiny cells are then administered to a patient as they sit in a chemotherapy chair in a bid to restore the body's natural tumour-suppressing mechanisms.
Although the treatment is still in its early stages and therefore requires multiple tests, a trial on one Sydney man has led to dramatic and encouraging results.
The man, 51-year-old Bradley Selmon, was exposed to asbestos for many years during his work as a plumber.
He was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2013 and decided to enter Dr Reid's trial after he stopped responding to chemotherapy treatment.
Within two months, his tumours had "virtually vanished".
"The pain stopped. All of a sudden, I could yawn without restriction. Now, I can go bushwalking and walk up steep steps - anything I want to do," he said.
Mr Selmon acknowledged he had always worried about mesothelioma over the years he worked as a tradesman and said when he was diagnosed, his mates began questioning him thoroughly about the symptoms.
"It's obviously also on the mind of other tradies."
Tests showed his lung functionality was now "pretty normal" and he felt that the trial had saved his life.
Professor Reid works at the Asbestos Diseases Research Institute in Australia and was appointed its senior research scientist in 2009.
His work and results were yesterday published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
"If it works in more patients, this treatment has the potential for a paradigm shift in the management of other treatment-resistant tumours," he said.
Mr Selmon's oncologist - Dr Steven Kao of the Chris O'Brien Lifehouse cancer centre in Sydney - praised the results, saying his patient's mesothelioma was now almost invisible.
Between 1954-2011, a total of 1696 cases of the disease were registered in New Zealand, a report on asbestos and occupational lung diseases 2013 report shows.
That survey also showed that the disease was more likely to be found in older people, with 49 per cent of cases aged 70 years or older.
Diagnosis huge shock
John Beamish was an all-round happy Kiwi bloke who enjoyed the outdoors and bike rides. He was fit, healthy, did not smoke and save for the odd beer, was not a drinker.
So when he got a persistent cough and started getting breathless walking up a small hill, his family knew something was wrong.
"He was a builder all his life so when we found out what it was, we knew what had happened - but it was still a shock," wife Jan said.
Mr Beamish died last year after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, or asbestos lung cancer, just 10 months earlier. He was 73.
"He had one round of chemo and then they had him do a second round. But by then it was just too advanced."
Mrs Beamish said her husband had remembered a time - about 30 years ago - when a job site in the Bay of Plenty had exposed him to asbestos.
It had never affected him until the persistent cough came and which kicked off visits to the doctor.
Hearing about a possible cure for the disease was simply wonderful, Mrs Beamish said. "We would've been so excited to hear [about the treatment] because we might've got extra time with him. Or it may have saved him."
Mrs Beamish encouraged people, particularly men working in trades, to get regular checks if they felt something was not right.
• Lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.
• Professions traditionally regularly exposed to asbestos: Plumbers, painters, builders, electricians, roofers, tilers, brake and clutch manufacturers, construction workers.
• Others at risk: People renovating their homes or living close to asbestos industries.
• Symptoms: Shortness of breath, chest pain, unexplained sudden loss of weight and sometimes night sweats.