A $12 million asbestos institute at Sydney’s Concord Hospital is the first of its kind in the world. Named for the late Bernie Banton, the research center was opened on January 21, 2009, by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who has pledged $5 million to go to the facility. Bernie Banton was an advocate for asbestos disease awareness until his death in 2007 from mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a cancer of the tissues lining the lungs. Its only known cause is exposure to asbestos, and it is one of the deadliest consequences of asbestos inhalation. Death from mesothelioma comes swiftly with most patients dying within months of their diagnosis and few surviving for more than a year. According to the facility director, Professor Nico van Zandwijk, the goal of the Bernie Banton Centre is to: “… study specific pathways to disease and relate them to prognosis and treatment. “We will also concentrate on education and prevention … and work on plans to ensure that the affected victim receives optimal treatment. “Ultimately, the aim will be to find new ways to treat a disease that is largely resistant to most forms of traditional therapy.”
Van Zandwijk worked with Banton toward the end of his life in order to lay the foundation for the creation of the Banton Centre. The need for such a research facility in Australia is high. Each year 750 Australians are diagnosed with a disease caused by asbestos, and estimates are that by 2020, there will be 13,000 cases of mesothelioma in the country. Most of those struck down by asbestos related diseases were those who held blue-collar jobs in the first 75 years of the 20th century when asbestos was a prevalent material in construction. Eleven other asbestos research facilities around the country will be linked to the Banton Centre.