The latest discovery of asbestos in contaminated mulch around schools and playgrounds in Sydney highlights the ongoing dangerous issues that Australia faces from this potentially deadly material which remains prevalent in the built environment says Professor Sonja Klebe, from Flinders University.
“Whilst the extent of the risks associated with the contaminated mulch are yet to be known, exposure to asbestos can lead to mesothelioma many years later,” says Professor Klebe.
“Mesothelioma is a tumour of the tissue that lines the surface of the lungs, heart and abdominal organs and survival rates for those diagnosed are typically only four to 18 months after diagnosis,” she says.
In Australia 14,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer every year, along with 700 Australians who are diagnosed with mesothelioma.
The survival rates for both diseases are low. Those diagnosed with lung cancer have a 22 per cent chance of surviving five years after diagnosis when compared to the general Australian population, whilst those with mesothelioma have only a 6.4 per cent chance.
A new $1.9 million research project funded by Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF), ‘Improving clinical outcomes and predicting susceptibility in mesothelioma and lung cancer’ led by Professor Sonja Klebe aims to improve survival rates for lung cancer and mesothelioma patients.
Professor Klebe says that the introduction of immunotherapy could be a game changer for lung cancer and mesothelioma patients.
“There is hope for greater survival rates with the introduction of immunotherapy, however there are challenges associated with this type of treatment such as unpleasant side effects and high costs to our healthcare system,” says Professor Klebe.
“At the moment it is not clear which patients will benefit from immunotherapy and we need to be able to predict patient responses to ensure optimal efficacy with minimal toxicity.
“Our research will help create personalised immunotherapy for lung cancer and mesothelioma, as well as new biomarkers to predict patient outcomes with the goal of improving lung cancer patient survival while reducing nasty side effects,” she says.
The new research project will use prospective data and records from a large number of mesothelioma and lung cancer patients in Australia including a large repository of historical specimens through biobanks in South Australia and New South Wales.
Flinders University Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Raymond Chan congratulated all the researchers and their teams on securing funding from the Medical Future Fund towards projects that will improve the health and wellbeing of Australians.
“Flinders University has consistently been at the forefront of groundbreaking research, addressing global challenges and making a significant impact towards improving lives across Australia and on an international level,” says Professor Chan.
“We are fortunate to have a team of exceptionally talented researchers and their groundbreaking research is making a significant impact by tackling some of the most intricate healthcare issues affecting individuals today.”