Australia has long held the unfortunate title of having the highest prevalence of an asbestos-caused cancer known as mesothelioma. Over the last 50 years, mesothelioma has taken the lives of more than 100,000 patients across the globe. Mesothelioma is caused by the infection and genetic changes that come from asbestos fibers becoming lodged in the lining of the lungs or abdomen. Mesothelioma is a rare cancer and there is currently no cure.
10,000 people have died in Australia in the past 25 years, and 25,000 more are expected to die in the coming decades. In the United States, 20,000 people have died in the past decade. Admittedly or not, mesothelioma is a serious and unnecessary epidemic. However, there is research being conducted right now that is shining a bright light on a dark diagnosis.
Researchers at the Asbestos Diseases Research Institute (ADRI) have found a synthetic version of genetic material that can be used to kill mesothelioma tumors. TargomiRs is a form of gene therapy that is helping this synthetic genetic material get to the tumor site. TargomiRs uses mini-cells to transport that drug to the desired area. This treatment option has been successfully tested on mice and the outcomes have been surprising.
Gene therapy is a somewhat new treatment method among patients with mesothelioma. It uses healthy DNA to fix defective cells in cancer patients. By doing this, cancer cells are slowly eliminated and healthy cells begin to take over the tumorous area.
In the past three years, researchers have found that when a patient has mesothelioma, the microRNAs in their body have significantly decreased. These microRNAs are responsible for the regulation of cell division and tumor biology. The synthetic genetic material that ADRI created involves the transportation of synthetic microRNAs. TargomiRs is being transported to the tumor site by what researchers are calling “magic bullets”. These magic bullets will help target the synthetic material straight to the tumor site. In doing this, the cells will be affected at a higher rate.
This new treatment will help to possibly save more lives that are disrupted by mesothelioma. From 2010-2011 in Australia, there were 666 new diagnoses of mesothelioma found. In that same year, 642 people died from mesothelioma. That high number of deaths leaves Australia with a 96% mortality rate in regards to this rare cancer.
ADRI researchers are planning to start the clinical trial process within the next six months. They plan to recruit 20-30 patients to determine a safe, yet optimal, dose amount to give to mesothelioma patients.
Professor Nico van Zandwijk, Director of the ADRI also mentioned the need for additional funding for the study, “However, to do this we need further funding of $750,000. This may lead to a new form of treatment for patients with mesothelioma,”
New treatments for mesothelioma patients would be extraordinarily beneficial, since the primary treatments available involve radical surgery in early stage patients.
Visit the Asbestos Diseases Research Institute (ADRI) for additional information on future treatments, including TargomiRs.
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