Study Touts Potential New Asbestos Drug

A drug that can help protect those who have been exposed to asbestos has resulted from a study, published in Science Magazine, which – for the first time – explains how asbestos fibers lead to the chronic lung inflammation that causes asbestosis and mesothelioma cancer.

The study was conducted by Prof. Jürg Tschopp of the University of Lausanne and colleagues in Europe and the United States, notes an article in the British newspaper The Telegraph. In the study, Tschopp and others report that the inflammation caused by asbestos fibers that are lodged in the lungs are linked to a complex of proteins, known as the Nalp3 inflammasome. This protein complex is also involved in other inflammatory diseases such as gout, which can be treated with a drug called Anakinra, the study notes.

The team of researchers now believes that the same drug might possibly be used to fight the inflammatory affects of asbestos fibers and potentially slow the symptoms of asbestosis and mesothelioma.

“Because exposure to asbestos increases not only the risk of asbestosis, but also lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other incurable cancers, this suggested new treatment is highly desirable,” says Prof. Tschopp.

He said that use of Anakinra would be used for prevention and not a cure. “Rather persons exposed to asbestos in the past and thus at high risk to get asbestosis or lung cancer could be treated with an inhibitor drug.”

Given the success of treating gout this way, “we are therefore quite optimistic that the same treatment will work for asbestosis,” Tschopp added.

Dr. Joanna Owens, Cancer Research UK senior scientific officer, said: “This important laboratory research brings us a step closer to understanding how asbestos causes the chronic inflammation that can lead to cancer.

“These results should help scientists find better ways to treat people who have been exposed to asbestos in the past. But Anakinra will need thorough testing in clinical trials before we’ll know if it’s safe and effective at preventing asbestos-related cancers.”

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