Image Source: https://www.abc.net.au/
Queensland doctors are hopeful they have found a cure for deadly silicosis lung disease, most frequently caused by inhaling toxic dust while cutting artificial stone.
- Prince Charles Hospital researchers call the treatment a “major milestone”
- They flush patients’ lungs in a treatment compared to a washing machine rinse cycle
- Professor Chambers says results have been better than they could have imagined
Silicosis cases have been rising rapidly in Australia, driven by a trend toward engineered stone kitchen benchtops.
The procedure adapted in Brisbane and being hailed as a potential breakthrough in treatment involves washing the lungs out with salt water — a technique that has proven successful in treating other lung diseases.
Prince Charles Hospital’s head of fibrosis research, Dan Chambers, said the results have been better than expected in treating silicosis.
They have trialled the treatment on six patients with early stage silicosis, as part of a $500,000 study.
“I think we’ve achieved a major milestone in addressing the silicosis epidemic in Australia and I think we’ll be able to help a lot of workers, not only in this country but around the world,” he said.
“Essentially, what it involves is literally drowning one lung with normal saline, while breathing for the patient off the other lung.”
Professor Chambers said the process of washing a patient’s lungs with a salt-water solution took about three hours under general anaesthetic.
“We use a total volume of roughly 25 litres of fluid going in and out … over that period of time,” he said.
“The fluid starts out as pretty dirty and mucky and then as each cycle happens, we clean it up.
“It’s literally, I guess, a bit like the rinse cycle on your washing machine.”
The researchers said they had developed a technique to calculate the amount of silica in patients’ lungs.
Professor Chambers said the treatment was potentially a cure for silicosis, because they had successfully removed silica crystals from the lungs of patients.
“Where we’ve got to at this point was demonstrating that this was not only feasible, but also very safe,” he said.
“We’ve seen very, very pleasing improvements in these guys’ CT scans, so you know, probably beyond what we even imagined would be possible.”
Professor Chambers said washing the crystals out of the patients lungs did not hurt them.
“All of the workers have gone home the next day, so we just kept them in hospital overnight.
“We’re very confident this would be a safe thing to do.”