For most of the twentieth century, the UK’s widespread industrial use of asbestos as an inexpensive insulating material in manufacturing, engineering and construction led, ultimately, to the fatal diseases of asbestosis and mesothelioma.                                                                                                                               

A monumental human tragedy affecting countless hundreds of thousands of workers and their families, the fatal legacy continues to this day and is forecast to claim many more lives for decades to come.

In particular, mesothelioma is an aggressive form of malignant cancer affecting the lining surrounding lungs and internal organs, yet is only detected after some 15 – 50 years from first exposure until asbestosis symptoms surface and are identified. To date, there has been no known cure and victims tend to only survive for between 4 to 18 months after diagnosis.

Despite reluctance by commercial interests to come to terms with asbestos awareness issues, combined with a long, slow process to enact legislation, asbestos use was eventually banned by the 1970s and 80s. The persistence of asbestos-related disease contracted by men and women in a wide variety of occupations and environments, such as schools and hospitals, is clearly shown by the continued high levels of mesothelioma compensation claims that asbestosis lawyers are asked to pursue.

Although the causal link between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma disease is known, by comparison, it has only been relatively recently that medical research has begun to understand the complex physiological responses that give rise to the disease from initial exposure. It is because of the unusually long latency period which occurs before symptoms emerge that some research scientists have concluded that there may be more hidden causes than simply attributing cancer-inducing properties to asbestos material.

Recently, Japanese medical research has found that asbestos may also “…effectively ‘turn off’ the body’s natural killer (NK) cells, leaving people more prone to developing cancer, in addition to causing cellular inflammation”.

While under normal circumstances NK cells act as a natural cancer-defence mechanism, which seeks and destroys pre-cancerous cells before they can cause damage, a new study found that white (chrysotile) asbestos caused damaging effects on the NK cells in both mesothelioma patients and those not suffering the disease.

Observable after just one week in an experiment conducted over a 5 month period, both diseased cells in a sample taken from mesothelioma patients and healthy cells in a sample taken from non-mesothelioma subjects showed a marked “NK suppression” indicating that asbestos has the potential to suppress the natural defence capability of NK cells. By contrast, a test sample, which substituted fibreglass wool for asbestos, did not produce the same results.