MESOTHELIOMA “miracle man” Barry Knowles is fighting a battle against time to help WA researchers discover why his body defied the deadly asbestos-related disease for years – and if it holds the secret to a cure.
The first step towards finding a vaccine began today when Mr Knowles handed lead researcher Professor Bruce Robinson a cheque for $50,000 from the Reflections Through Reality Foundation.
Until recently, the retired builder who lives in Helena Valley stunned the medical world by surviving the slow-developing disease without medical intervention.
The Foundation he established with his family last year is helping fund work at the National Centre for Asbestos Related Diseases (NCARD) in Perth.
Rotary Club of Perth organised the cheque handover at the presentation lunch on September 30, when Mr Knowles will celebrate his 72nd birthday.
Together with the Rotary Club of Esperance and donations from families affected by mesothelioma, the Perth club has helped raise most of the money for the Foundation.
Diagnosed with mesothelioma in February 2010 and given six months to live, Mr Knowles defied the odds to write his book, Reflections Through Reality, published last year.
After years free of symptoms of mesothelioma, the disease returned “in a very vengeful way” about seven weeks ago and time is running out.
Driven by the need to help other sufferers, Mr Knowles said his dream was for doctors to learn from his case, and their laboratory studies, to generate new vaccine treatments aimed at stimulating an immune attack on the cancer.
“The tumours in my body have suddenly become aggressive and I know now there is not a lot of time left for researchers to unlock the secrets to my immune system,” he said.
“But the money raised by the Foundation will help them get started and I pray they discover something positive that will eventually produce a cure for those who will suffer this horrible disease in the years ahead.”
Mr Knowles’ daughter, Swan View resident Jo Morris, is the Foundation’s operations manager.
She spoke of her father’s determination to push on until the end, saying his wish was to provide hope and inspiration to other sufferers of the disease.
“Dad’s deteriorating health has given him a sense of urgency as the number of meso’ cases increase worldwide,” she said.
“One person dies every 12 hours in Australia from the effects of mesothelioma and those numbers are set to increase.
“Dad’s wish is to leave a legacy that may help put an end to all this terrible suffering that victims of the disease – and their families – go through.”
University of WA Prof Robinson said the $50,000 would enable NCARD to fund a research fellow to undertake clinical trials to start early next year.
“We are international leaders in many aspects of this work and, through Barry’s remarkable survival, we are confident of finding a vaccine that destroys the asbestos-induced cancer cells causing mesothelioma and lung cancer,” he said.
Rotary Club of Perth president Larry Hirsch said Mr Knowles’ passion to see an end to the disease had gathered momentum across many Rotary clubs to help raise money for the Foundation.
“It is 50 years since Wittenoom closed and yet mesothelioma still impacts more Western Australians per capita than anywhere else in the world – and the numbers are on the rise,” he said.
“Anything which will help prevent the loss of innocent lives here – and throughout the world – deserves the support of organisations like Rotary and the wider community.”
To register for the fundraising event Convicts for a Cause or donate, visit the Foundation at reflections.org.au.
About one third of all homes built in Australia contain asbestos products.
Homes built before the mid 1980s are highly likely to contain asbestos materials.
Asbestos was banned nationally on December 31, 2003.