Australians were once among the world’s largest providers and consumers of asbestos, so it goes that Australians are among the world’s biggest sufferers of Mesothelioma.

Scientists from the Griffith Health Institute(GHI) have advanced research to the point where they have begun planning clinical trials for a therapy to fight the aggressive cancer.

In Australia, there are currently 800-1000 new cases per year and this number is expected to rise until at least 2020. Queensland was an especially voracious user of asbestos in post-war housing, with the affects expected to linger for decades.

Partnership searches for a treatment

In 2011 the Queensland Asbestos Related Disease Support Society established the Douglas Francis Green scholarship in partnership with GHI and awarded its first scholarship to former Iranian pharmacist, Elham Alizadeh Pasdar.

Ms Pasdar’s believes the secret to battling Mesothelioma lies in the cancer’s aggressiveness. If researchers, can find an effective treatment or cure, it may unlock the secret of curing other cancers. This is based on the idea of cancers containing “cancer stem-like cells” (CSCs) which stimulate tumour growth.

“CSCs have been identified in many cancers like breast and colon etc, but until now there was no conclusive evidence for the existence of CSCs in malignant Mesothelioma.

“Our main focus for a treatment is a group of vitamin E derivative drugs that has been proved to kill the cancer cells in cell culture. The advantage of this group of drugs over other drugs is that they specifically kill cancer cells.” she said.

Positive signs

Ms Pasdar believes the early signs are positive that a treatment may be developed from her laboratory’s work.

“Until recently I felt like I was working alone, but since we’ve started to get some results, scientists from all over the world have started sharing similar research and working more together.

“The early results are very promising. Our GHI cancer lab has been working very hard on this for a long time and the work is reducing cancer tumours so we keep our hopes up that one day we’ll have a treatment,” she said.