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Thompsons Solicitors has welcomed the news that scientists have safely tested a potential vaccine they hope can beat mesothelioma, the deadly cancer linked to asbestos exposure.

Frank Maguire, Thompsons senior partner and a leading campaigner for the rights of asbestos victims and their families said: “It will be tremendous news for everyone suffering mesothelioma if the initial tests are validated, and the experts can go on to produce a viable and effective vaccine.

“Preliminary results like this always have to be treated with a degree of caution, not least to avoid raising false hopes.

“But up till now mesothelioma has been a merciless form of cancer which can take up to 40 years to develop and typically leaves victims with a life expectancy of less than two years.

“This is the first indication that scientists have come up with a vaccine that could possibly stop mesothelioma in its tracks.”

The Clydebank Post, which serves the town which is the worst affected area in the UK for mesothelioma deaths reported that the development - widely covered in medical journals -has been described as the most significant breakthrough yet in the battle against the deadly asbestos related cancer

The paper’s report continues:

Research leader Dr Joachim Aerts said: “We hope it will be possible to increase survival in patients with mesothelioma and to eventually vaccinate people who havebeen in contact with asbestos.”

The news has been greeted with enthusiasm in Clydebank where thousands of workers were exposed to asbestos in places such as John Brown’s shipyard and Turner & Newalls Dalmuir asbestos factory. Bob Dickie, of Clydebank Asbestos Group, which has more than 1,400 members, said: “If this becomes a reality, it would be a tremendous step forward in the treatment of mesothelioma. If these experiments prove to be successful then it would be wonderful for people who suffer from this terrible disease.”

Ten patients with advanced mesothelioma were given the new treatment — being called a vaccine — and all showed signs of recovery.

Even more encouraging was the fact tumours in three of the patients shrunk.  The new treatment is called a vaccine because cells are taken from the patient’s own body, encouraged to create antibodies and then injected back in.  Essentially the process uses the patient’s own immune system to fight cancer.  Dr Richard Simpson, who is the Scottish shadow minister for Public Health, hopes the treatment could be available for sufferers in Clydebank within five to eight years, around the time when the numbers of mesothelioma sufferers is predicted to peak.

He said: “They have completed the initial study and carried out preliminary tests in ten patients — people which no other treatment can help.

“In quite a number of them it did demonstrate they were developing anti-bodies to the cancer and the tumour size had reduced.

“It’s some way off being an active treatment but it is one of the most hopeful advances in what is otherwise a very difficult condition to treat.

“Mesothelioma is usually fatal within a very short period of time and there’s not much they can do in terms of treatment. It will now go to further clinical trials.

“The number of cases of asbestos is expected to rise until about the year 2016 so it’s going to help people in the future.

“I would have guessed it would be a time frame of five to eight years before it becomes available.

“It takes quite a while to get these studies done properly. Of course it may fail on its second or third testing, but at the moment it looks hopeful.”

In West Dunbartonshire there were 216 deaths from mesothelioma between 1981and 2005 — under average conditions 40 deaths would have been expected. Bankies will have certainly made up the majority of these cases as the town was exposed to a deadly combination of decades of asbestos use in shipbuilding, as well as the asbestos factory inDalmuir which operated until 1970. 

At its peak year the Health and Safety Executive estimate 2,038 people will die from mesothelioma in the UK. Dr Simpson is in favour of Scottish-based scientists joining in with research on this new vaccine and Mr Dickie says the Clydebank Asbestos Group would support such a move. 

The town’s MSP Des McNulty said: “Over the years we have fought hard to get people compensation and get cases brought to court as quickly as possible, but there’s previously been no help on the medical side.

“There have been drugs to alleviate the symptoms a bit but inevitably, mesotheliomahas been a fatal condition.

“People in Clydebank have suffered the worst impact from this terrible disease and this treatment becoming available to people in Clydebank would definitely be something I would like to see.”

The Dutch doctor behind a breakthrough treatment for asbestos related cancer has saidhe is confident that UK researchers will now pick up on his team’s work. Dr Joachim Aerts has safely tested a potential vaccine and says because the vaccine type treatment has been successfully tried on 10 patients at his research centre in the Netherlands — and shrunk mesothelioma tumours in three of them — interest will now pick up across the world.

Dr Aerts’ treatment involves taking cells from a mesothelioma victim, encouraging the cells to create antibodies and then re-injecting them back into the patient. It essentially uses the patient’s own immune system to fight tumours — and Dr Aerts believes centres in the UK will be poised to start testing the technique.

Dr Aerts, a lung expert, said: “We do not have contact in terms of work already being transferred to the UK, but our results are just now coming out — we have been working onthis for years but it may not have worked.

“Now it has succeeded I’m convinced it will be picked up in the UK because it’s not just atreatment for mesothelioma, it’s a positive treatment for all kinds of cancer. In the UK there are facilities already working on this kind of treatment for cancer.

“The best way for people in Scotland to benefit would be to transfer treatment there.

“We have patients from all over the world wanting to participate — but you can’t travel to Holland for an experimental treatment that you don’t even know will help you.”

Dr Aerts will now try to perfect his vaccine — which he has been working on for six years — so that eventually it will be used to prevent mesothelioma tumours ever developing. If successful it will mean that anyone who has been exposed to asbestos can be vaccinated against mesothelioma.

He said: “We know what we have achieved already — we have succeeded in getting an immune response in patients — that’s all we know.

“Mesothelioma negatively influences the immune system — so it also negatively affectsour treatment.

“The next thing we will be doing is mice experiments — on a model of mesothelioma in them — to try and lower the immune suppression of the tumour.

“When this succeeds we will expand it through the patient studies. Our goal is to create a vaccine that will stop mesothelioma developing.”

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