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BR doctor finds his gifts of flowers, prayers returning to him since illness

Special to The Advocate
Apr 29, 2006 - Dr. Mike Hackler put in a rose garden when he moved into Santa Maria subdivision in 1999.

The roses are for sharing.

The cardiovascular surgeon regularly takes them in plastic bags hanging off each arm to First Presbyterian Church, where each woman who passes gets a rose to match her attire.

Now it’s the women’s turn to give to him.

Hackler, battling asbestos-caused cancer, goes each Sunday to a room set aside for prayer and before he enters receives a rose from a member of the Presbyterian Women.

Never mind that the effectiveness of prayer as a help in healing remains a source of debate in scientific circles.

And never mind that studies of the subject yield mixed results at best with a recently published study funded by Templeton Foundation and Harvard Medical School finding no discernible benefits for the 1,800-plus heart patients studies over nearly a decade.

Hackler, as doctor and man of faith, credits “the power of prayer and the grace of God” along with medicine for the life he continues to experience today.

“Only 20 percent of people with mesothelioma have a positive response to chemotherapy,” he said.

Nevertheless, after four rounds of chemotherapy and a CAT scan in early March, he was told that the large tumor on his liver is shrinking. “I ask friends to keep on praying,” he said.

Hackler, who is associated with CTV Surgical Center, grew up in Port Allen, a football star and award-winning honor student.

He always held jobs while attending school for 16 years, including LSU Medical School in Shreveport, the Medical School of South Carolina and School of Medicine in Tennessee.

It was while pursuing an engineering degree at LSU that he worked as a longshoreman at the Port of Baton Rouge, where he unloaded asbestos from ships coming from Africa.

“I diagnosed two friends/co-workers with the same cancer,” Hackler said. “Until a year ago, there was no hope. Now, there is one chance out of five for a positive response.”

His first symptom in mid-2005 was lassitude — a feeling of weariness.

Next came pain in the right shoulder radiating to the chest, then came pain in the right upper abdomen.

Not until he had a laparoscopy, a procedure where two holes are drilled in the abdomen and pictures taken, was the diagnosis made.

“I felt like a bomb had been dropped on me when the biopsy was confirmed,” he said. “I was dumbfounded.

“Here I was, age 59 and at the peak of my career.”

After conferring with Dr. Gerald Miletello, he learned that only two places in the country have experimental surgery for mesothelioma. “I knew medical statistics give a patient three to six months to live, if nothing is done. It took me about 20 seconds to say yes.”

On Dec. 29 at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Md., he had his abdomen opened up, the intent being to remove as much of the tumor in the abdomen as possible. “It was a bloody mess, I lost four units of blood. They removed the omemtum (a veil of fat that hangs off the stomach and colon), and closed me back up,” he said. “The tumor was attached to the right diaphragm, and in trying to dislodge it, they put a hole in the diaphragm and saw that the cancer originated in the right chest.”

He returned to Baton Rouge for the chemotherapy — two successive days every three weeks.

He recently had his fifth round of treatment.

“I have two good weeks out of three,” he said. “The week after chemo, I am laid low, feel weak, tired and nauseated. I take a derivative of morphine to control pain.

“In good weeks, when I feel like it, I go to the office and do paperwork, and I visit in the hospitals.”

During Mardi Gras, he danced at the Karnival Krewe de Louisiane’s ball that benefits cancer patients. “I had no idea when I joined at its inception 15 years ago that I would be a cancer patient,” he said.

A lifelong Christian, reared in the West Baton Rouge Presbyterian Church, as a high school senior, he contemplated going to seminary.

He has traveled to Russia to help found a church.

Several years ago he taped some televised segments on Spirituality in Medicine for Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center.

He always offers to pray with a patient and the family prior to surgery, and 95 percent of them take him up on it, he said. While scrubbing, in preparation for his surgery, he prayed.

“Once I faced the cancer, I accepted the fact I have it, I quit worrying and turned it over to God,” he said. “I got ‘the peace that passeth all understanding’ that we read about in the Bible.” In thank-you notes to friends, he writes, “All is well with my soul.”

His roses, 40 varieties of hybrid tea roses, began blooming in late March and he has begun taking them again to the sick and to church. The difference now at First Presbyterian is that he receives one from a different woman every week, to let him know he is loved and in their prayers.

“I’ve been floored by the people who have called and written. I’m on prayer lists throughout the world. I had no idea that I had touched their lives.”

Irregardless of some studies showing that prayer has no impact on healing, Hackler is convinced otherwise.

“I recall a study in California years ago with one group of patients being the subject of prayer, without their knowledge, and the other group left alone. Those being prayed over did far better.

“I believe that we doctors are just a tool of the Lord’s will and the Lord is the Great Physician.”

The little mouse who wouldn’t say die

by Carmelo Amalfi
Cosmos Online

The Devil's apple, or Solanum linnaeanum has an active ingredient which shows early promise as a cancer treatment.

26 July 2006 - When a little laboratory mouse refused to die of mesothelioma, an Australian biotech company suspected they might be on to something big.

Laboratory rats rarely retire. For most ‘guinea pigs' of science, death by disease or drug overdose is the only way out of the experiments.

But what happens when one of the subjects survives all the tests? And not just once, but twice.

For starters, share prices jump and so do the hopes of thousands of asbestos-related mesothelioma sufferers around the world.

Meet Mouse Number Five, the humble little lab mouse that survived one of the world's nastiest and incurable industrial diseases.

Known as M5 to his lab mates, the ‘miracle' mouse is still living it up on free cheese in quarantine - a living symbol of what can be achieved when biotechnology and business mix, according to Solbec Pharmaceuticals general manager David Sparling.

M5 made the front page last year when the Perth-based company announced that the infected lab mouse recovered from mesotheliolma after he was administered drugs made from compounds extracted from the fruit of devil's apple, a noxious weed introduced from Africa to Queensland in 1801.

The plant-based drug they developed, coramsine, ‘cured' M5. He also survived after he was re-infected with the normally deadly disease – suggesting that coramsine gave him lasting immunity by boosting or ‘priming' the immune system to respond to tumour attacks.

Sparling said the same result had been observed in limited trials of terminally ill patients in WA, whose tumours either shrunk or disappeared: "M5 represents a significant step in our mesothelioma research. It did not mean it would work in humans, but it did not mean it wouldn't."

Mesothelioma is a malignant growth in the cells that line a patient's body cavities including the chest, abdominal region or tissues surrounding the heart. It is typically associated with exposure to fine fibres of asbestos used for decades in Australia in the manufacture of building products now at the centre of the nation's biggest industrial health scandal.

Up to 45,000 people are expected to die from mesothelioma over the next 15 to 20 years, with more than 2500 Australians a year diagnosed with untreatable asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma.

One of five mice infected with the disease as part of Solbec's phase one trials to prove coramsine's safety and level of toxicity, M5 has now moved on to greener pastures - one of the lucky few lab rats set to die of natural causes.

Two other mice pulled through the phase one toxicity trials, but died of an overdose. And another two were put down after their tumours shrank, then returned.

Sparling said the focus now was repeating the M5 test results in national clinical trials over the next 12 to 24 months. Not on mesothelioma, but two other killers of Australians - malignant melanoma and renal cell carcinoma.

He said the trials will take the company's drug therapy treatment from phase one to phase two trials, proving efficacy in people. They will involve up to 60 patients with malignant melanoma and up to 60 patients with renal cell carcinoma from hospitals in every state and territory.

From there, if successful, Solbec moves to phase three - taking the drug to the marketplace. Originally incorporated as a mining company (Britannia Gold), Solbec was re-listed as a biotechnology company in 2001.

Sparling said it was best to have phase two results before little biotechs such as themselves establish partnerships with much bigger companies with the resources and marketing channels to take it through to consumers worldwide.

Solbec in Perth employed 16 people specialising in the development and commercialisation of therapies for life threatening and debilitating diseases and disorders, including biopharmaceutical compounds for the treatment of cancers such as melanoma, renal cell carcinoma and malignant mesothelioma. Devil's apple is one of those "therapies".

Known in scientific circles as Solanum linnaeanum, the Devil's apple's active compound, coramsine, consists of two main compounds, the glycoalkaloids solasonine and solamargine, which act by binding to a receptor on the cancer cell and rupturing the cell wall, causing the cell to die.

Solbec has located a receptor it believes is common to most cancer cells. Studies at the University of Western Australia have shown activity against ovarian cancer, renal cancer, melanoma, mesothelioma, colorectal and colon cancer, gastric cancer, bladder cancer, various skin cancers and prostate cancer.

The applications of devil's apple in combating cancer was tested and patented in the early 1980s by Bill Cham, who was then a medical researcher at the University of Queensland.

Cham, who developed a cream made from the devil's apple flower, followed up anecdotal evidence from livestock owners that the growth of skin cancers and lesions had slowed down or cleared up in horses and cattle that ate the weed.

Farmers also were known to rub the sap of the fruit to the back of their hands to stop sunspots.

Solbec runs a devil's apple farm on a 6 ha property, 40 km south of Perth. The perennial flowering plant is grown, harvested and transported to a plant where the glycoalkaloids are extracted.

Solbec outsources the final stages of the manufacturing process to reduce infrastructure costs by sending the glycoalkaloids in powder form, and roughly 99 per cent pure, to be further processed in Melbourne. The glycoalkaloids are split, then re-blended to improve the purity. One acre of land (0.4 ha) can provide enough fruit to make 80,000 doses a year.

The next year of production will include supplying doses for the national trials. Sparling said patients will be administered coramsine on a cycle of five days on and nine days off, receiving one injection a day directly into the largest vein in the body. Most patients are in their 50s and 60s.

Coramsine also is being applied in a parallel study of terminally ill patients in Western Australia under the Therapeutic Goods Administration's Special Access Scheme. The Federal Government ‘compassionate use' scheme allows patients who have tried all accepted therapies without success to access experimental medicines not yet in the market place.

Some of the 30 to 40 cancer patients treated so far under the scheme were given months to live, some went on to live for more than a year when given coramsine.

Sparling said the research and development involved in proving coramsine was, "tough, long and arduous".

"The whole biotechnology sector is struggling," he said.

"In the meantime, we are helping people. It's important we do this work. I also think the biotechnology sector will not stay soft for good. Though the risks can be high, there are potentially lucrative returns to be made in this business."

Exposures to Commercial Asbestos In Northeastern Minnesota Iron Miners who Developed Mesothelioma - PDF

There is a long history of community concern about a possible link between the mining industry in northeastern Minnesota and the occurrence of cancers and respiratory diseases in that part of the state. In 1973, asbestos-like fibers were found in the Duluth water supply and traced to tailings that had been disposed of in Lake Superior by the Reserve Mining Company

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