Michael Harbut, co-director of the NCVAC and chief of the Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine, reported the results after analyzing a patient who was exposed to taconite dust as a child. Taconite, similar to asbestiform minerals, is a silicate mineral found among layers of shale rock. Some scientists have already agreed that the fibers in shale rock resemble those found in asbestos, one of the primary causes of mesothelioma.
By using a new radiography approach coined by Carmen Endress, associate professor of Radiology at Wayne State University School of Medicine and radiologist at the NCVAC, researchers were able to document an increase in pleural plaques and erosion on the interior wall of the ribs.
“This action of the pleural plaque against the covering of the bone and the bone itself is a biologically plausible and an anatomically logical explanation of the unrelenting pain which some patients experience,” said Dr. Harbut.
The new imaging approach, which uses the Vitrea(R) imaging software program by Vital Images, allowed researchers to enhance images obtained from the 64-slice high resolution CT scan. Information based on the CT scan and other health conditions resulted in a diagnosis of asbestosis.
Researchers believe the clarity of the new imaging method will make it easier to detect asbestos-related illnesses at an earlier stage. If so, quicker detection will hopefully allow additional treatment options to help patients cope with pain.
The 55-year-old patient was unknowingly exposed to taconite dust through the work clothes worn by her father, who mined the mineral from 1962 to 1969. While using the new imaging approach, Dr. Harbut was able to see the patient’s progression over a three-year period and realized the findings were consistent with those diagnosed with asbestosis.
The findings further support previous human and animal reports revealing that taconite dust can cause the same health effects as asbestos fibers.
Harbut concluded, “Patients often require a lifetime of narcotics to allow functioning, but we are hopeful that with this new imaging technology, more selective pain management approaches with fewer side effects can be instituted resulting in a better quality of life.”
Additional information about mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases may be found through the Mesothelioma Center.