Science and Law
28th April 2020

Talc and Asbestos Defendants Should Monitor and Utilize Published Studies Linking Mesothelioma to Genomic Causes

Plaintiff experts having been asserting for decades that all mesotheliomas must be linked to some asbestos exposure. Indeed, this has led to the erroneous (but widespread) view that mesothelioma is a signature disease, only caused by asbestos exposure.

Talc and Asbestos Defendants Should Monitor and Utilize Published Studies Linking Mesothelioma to Genomic Causes

Plaintiff experts having been asserting for decades that all mesotheliomas must be linked to some asbestos exposure. Indeed, this has led to the erroneous (but widespread) view that mesothelioma is a signature disease, only caused by asbestos exposure. This viewpoint ignores the well documented fact that cancer is a disease of the genome and mesothelioma is no exception. Clearly, there is a well demonstrated causal link between asbestos exposure and mesothelioma; But asbestos is not the only cause of mesothelioma. Like all other cancers, unfortunate inheritance of certain germline mutations will also cause mesothelioma.

Not surprisingly, leading mesothelioma researchers around the world are studying the genomic causes of mesothelioma and these studies are being published at an astonishing pace. There have been dozens of articles published related to the topic of genomics and mesothelioma since January 2020 (see our offer at the end of this post). Many of these studies have demonstrated incredibly important findings of direct relevance to talc and asbestos litigators. Some examples are described below.

    • Genetically engineered mice (so-called “knock-out mice”) with mutations of 3 key genes develop mesothelioma in the absence of asbestos exposure that is “similar to mesotheliomas in humans”. This study (and others like it) puts to rest the idea that mesothelioma is a signature disease only caused by asbestos.
    • Genomic analysis of patients with mesothelioma revealed 25 rare variants in 14 genes associated with cell division and tumor suppression, irrespective of asbestos exposure. This study demonstrates that germline variants are highly likely to be a causal, inherited, predisposing factor for mesothelioma.
    • Characterization of genetic alterations in more than 200 malignant pleural mesothelioma tissue samples revealed that NF2 mutation was the most frequent alteration in non-exposed patients, suggesting that NF2 is a driver of mesothelioma independent of asbestos.

Asbestos and talc litigators are missing out on an important defense strategy if they are not keeping up with this literature and retaining genetic experts to incorporate the findings from these studies to establish genetic causation in their cases. As asbestos exposures become lower and lower, these genetic defenses become more tenable and more compelling.

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