Hundreds of white balloons were released across the River Tyne today (Tuesday, February 27) in memory of victims of asbestos in the North East.

The Mick Knighton Mesothelioma Research Fund held the balloon launch as part of National Action Mesothelioma Day.

The balloons represented the human lung, which is damaged by mesothelioma, a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.

Former shipyard workers, engineers, teachers, grandparents, children and widows from across the North East gathered at the Gateshead Millennium Bridge to raise awareness of the disease.

The event commemorated past and future victims of mesothelioma and brought attention to the important work being carried out to find treatments for the disease.

No cure for mesothelioma

Every year more than 2,000 people are diagnosed with the disease. There is no cure and many are given just 12 months to live.

The Mick Knighton Mesothelioma Research Fund, based in Wallsend, supports research into treatment for it.

The charity is currently funding a project to increase the efficiency of chemotherapy drug Alimta, which is said to increase mesothelioma sufferers lives by up to three months.

Chris Knighton said the balloon launch was a chance to raise awareness about mesothelioma so more can be done for victims.

She said: "Mesothelioma has affected the lives of many families in the North East due to the legacy of heavy industries on the rivers Tyne, Wear and Tees".

"Recent figures show that many more people will be diagnosed with asbestos in the future. We feel this was the perfect opportunity to raise awareness about mesothelioma".

"But we also want to highlight the progress that has been made over recent years to find ways of treating the disease".

"The Mick Knighton Mesothelioma Research Fund has raised over £220,000 in the last five years through donations from kind-hearted people in the North East and across the UK. That money is helping to fund research into Alimta which we hope will enable hundreds of patients to have a better standard of living during their final months".

"We are delighted with the support people in the North East have shown us in turning up to this event. We hope they will continue to work with us in the future to look at ways to help mesothelioma victims and their families."

Blaydon MP David Anderson and the Mayor of Gateshead and Consort Councillor Maureen and Bob Goldsworthy attended the event which was followed by a reception at HMS Calliope where a short film including footage of North East families affected by mesothelioma, presented by Time Team’s Tony Robinson was shown.