15 Jun 2015

New hope in asbestos-related cancer treatment

3:34 pm on 15 June 2015

New nanocell biotechnology developed by Australian scientists has been used to almost entirely rid a man of asbestos-related cancer.


Photo: AAP

Mesothelioma, which attacks the outer lining of the lungs, and sometimes the stomach, comes from exposure to asbestos and has a poor prognosis.

It is considered one of the most difficult cancers to treat.

Scientists from the Chris O'Brien Lifehouse Centre today published a case report of a patient whose mesothelioma has almost entirely disappeared.

Bradley Selmon was one of ten patients in a phase-one clinical trial of a new treatment that used very small genes known as microRNA to inhibit tumour growth.

The genes were transported to the mesothelioma in his right lung using nanocells.

Associate Professor Glen Reid from the Asbestos Diseases Research Institute (ADRI), who put the microRNA inside the nanocells, said it was like using a Trojan horse.

"A nanocell is a delivery vehicle," he said. "You can package basically anything in there that you like, so a chemotherapy drug - or in our case a mini-gene - and then it's injected into the body."

Once in the lung, the nanocells delivered the microRNA to the affected lung to inhibit tumour growth.

Mr Selmon's oncologist, Dr Steven Kao, said he was surprised by how well the treatment worked in his patient.

"He had this quite amazing response where a lot of his cancer cannot be seen on his scan."

Researchers emphasised that Mr Selmon was the only patient to respond so well - with the other nine patients in the trial either remaining stable or continuing to decline.

They said they did not know how long the treatment would work or if it would work in others.

Dr Kao agreed it was still early days for the new treatment. "I would be cautious about the results given that this is a very early finding in a limited number of patients."

Mr Selmon's case was published today in American journal Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.


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