Science and Law
2nd March 2015

New Asbestos Science Provides Potential New Angles for Legal Cases

Most asbestos litigators understand the importance of the science to a solid representation of their clients. However, some fail to remain up-to-date with the science on a prospective basis. The latest science is important to both sides in a dispute and it is critical, whether you are plaintiff or defense, to not only be aware of the emerging scientific literature and research, but to also understand how it applies to your case.

New Asbestos Science Provides Potential New Angles for Legal Cases

Most asbestos litigators understand the importance of the science to a solid representation of their clients. However, some fail to remain up-to-date with the science on a prospective basis. The latest science is important to both sides in a dispute and it is critical, whether you are plaintiff or defense, to not only be aware of the emerging scientific literature and research, but to also understand how it applies to your case. We recently posted about the difficulty of remaining up to date on the current science related to asbestos litigation. In this post, we describe the importance of some of this newly emerging science and try to provide you with some highlights.

The emerging asbestos science is adding plenty of potential new angles for asbestos legal cases. Some of the latest asbestos science is based on new technologies that are considered by many to be evolving and reaching maturity. Some of these areas include genomics, epigenetics, biomarkers, and newly evolving diagnostic tools.

While scientists and attorneys grapple with new science, one thing is clear: this information has enormous potential to influence various aspects of asbestos litigation, even though the precise nature of this influence remains unclear. Thus, tracking new scientific developments will help you add relevant tools to your litigation toolbox rather than being ambushed.

Recent Asbestos Science Potentially Useful for Litigators

Dozens of scientific studies a month are published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature that could be relevant to your asbestos cases. To show you the importance of this literature, we provide below a few examples.

Naturally-Occurring Carcinogenic Fibers in Nevada

Scientists from University of Hawaii Cancer Center, University of Nevada, and the University of Pennsylvania have reported finding naturally occurring, carcinogenic fibers, including actinolite asbestos, erionite, winchite, magnesioriebeckite and richterite. According to their recently published paper, these findings may provide a contributing factor to mesotheliomas found in southern Nevada. As evidence for a causal role, the authors site the high rate of mesothelioma in women in Nevada, something not seen in other parts of the county. It seems reasonable that if you are a defendant in this region (or, perhaps other regions with similar geographies), you would want to explore whether or not naturally occurring mineral fibers could be a factor in your case. These findings were reported in stories in the NY Times and Science Daily. Interestingly, in these stories, reporters highlight resistance received by the scientific investigators by state health authorities.

Erionite-Induced Mesothelioma

A recent study by Demirer and colleagues provide a descriptive summary of 33 studies (22 retrospective, 6 prospective, and 5 case reports) that identify pleural changes consistent with malignant mesothelioma in individuals exposed to erionite. Much like the Nevada study, this study provides a potential basis for alternative causal factors in appropriate asbestos mesothelioma cases.

Genetics-Based Tumor Registries Could Provide Better Background Rate Estimates

Kerger and colleagues highlight the difficulty of accurately diagnosing mesothelioma based on the concept that extrapleural tumors resembling mesothelioma may have several possible etiologies. As the authors point out, this is especially true in individuals with no meaningful history of amphibole asbestos exposure. Specifically, certain pleural carcinomas and sarcomas could undergo desmoplastic reactions in the pleura, and thereby mimic mesothelioma. According to these authors, a registry for genetic mesothelioma screening would solve some of these potential misdiagnoses and lead to improvements in diagnostic criteria. Perhaps more importantly, such genetic tumor registries would lead to improved estimates of primary mesothelioma incidence and background rates of cancers unrelated to asbestos that might have been mistaken for mesothelioma. The article provides an excellent outline of some of the genetic information that is now well developed with respect to mesothelioma and other related tumor types.

Update to Helsinki Criteria

The expert meeting on “asbestos, asbestosis, and cancer” was convened in Helsinki in 1997 and was updated in 2000. The most recent update was developed in 2014 and provides specific recommendations that every lawyer trying an asbestos case should be aware of. The report summarizes four subject areas of consensus: (1) CT screening for asbestos-related lung cancer; (2) Follow up of asbestos-exposed workers and diagnosis of non-malignant asbestos disease; (3) New asbestos-related disease entities; and (4) Pathology and biomarkers.

Role of Inherited Genetic Factors in Development of Lung Cancer

Malhotra and colleagues evaluated genome-wide association data from a case-control study in 6 European countries from 1998-2002. The goal was to identify gene-occupation interactions that could potentially shed light on related pathways for lung cancer risk. The investigators analyzed 70 agents from 1802 lung cancer cases and 1725 cancer-free controls. They conclude that genetic polymorphisms related to specific signal transduction pathways could increase an individual’s susceptibility to lung cancer when that individual is exposed to certain occupational agents. Thus, this study lends support to the view that an individual’s genetic makeup predisposes him to lung cancer in response to specific exposures.

Conferences

In addition to tracking and reading the science on a regular basis, there are countless conferences that can help defense attorneys get up to speed on some of these emerging areas of asbestos science.

Here is a sample of a few upcoming conferences:

March 2-4, 2015: 2015 International Symposium on Malignant Mesothelioma

March 16-17, 2015: Cutting-Edge Issues in Asbestos Litigation Conference

May 1, 2015: HarrisMartin’s DNA and Molecular Evidence in Toxic Torts Conference: The Time of Genomics Is Here.

November 5, 2015: DRI Asbestos Medicine

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This sampling of studies published in the last 6 months and upcoming conferences highlight the importance of maintaining an up-to-date awareness of the asbestos literature as it might apply to legal cases.

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