Researchers are looking for new treatments for a deadly disease caused by asbestos exposure.

Australia has one of the highest per-capita rates of asbestos-related disease in the world.

With more than 650 Australians diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma last year, Flinders University is leading new research to discover alternatives to chemotherapy and even prevent deaths by early detection in future.

Experts warn that the high number of cases could persist for years, with hundreds more cases of the deadly disease possible after latency of more than 30 years from work-related (builders, plumbers, gasfitters, mechanics and marine engineers) or other exposure. Firefighters may also be at risk after the devastating bushfires razed old buildings and sheds across Australia.

One novel approach, using natural therapeutic benefits of curcumin, a key component of the spice turmeric, will be put to the test in a clinical trial.

The team will study the safety and feasibility of using a form of intrapleural liposomal curcumins to benefit patient survival and quality of life – with fewer toxic side-effects than chemotherapy.

The researchers are also looking for early diagnostic methods with a special lung fluid test.

“In most cases, malignant mesothelioma is not diagnosed until it is in the late stages,” Associate Professor Sonja Klebe says.

“We’re hoping to find a way to test for the disease before it becomes invasive.”

Patients diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, the cancer caused by asbestos exposure,  experience poor survival of 6 to 12 months following diagnosis and a five-year survival of less than 5 per cent.

President of the Asbestos Victims Association Peter Baxter, who was exposed to workplace asbestos, is one of the volunteers campaigning to raise awareness during Asbestos Awareness Month.

“I now suffer from asbestosis, and have lost two of my managers [from previous employer James Hardie], from this terrible cancer mesothelioma,” says Mr Baxter.