New Developments in Molecular Science Relevant to Asbestos and Lung Cancer Claims

Scientific advances and molecular insights relevant to asbestos and lung cancer are exploding — especially topics related to an assessment of causation. These advances are chronicled in molecular studies related to genomics, proteomics, epigenetics, and transcriptomics. These molecular studies are transforming so-called “black-box epidemiology,” providing us with a higher degree of specificity that will ultimately allow us to more definitively link exposures to disease states.

For example, European investigators and others have been publishing intriguing studies describing lung cancer tumor mutation profiles that appear to be highly correlated to asbestos fiber burden. In addition, other molecular profiles are showing promise as tools to potentially distinguish asbestos-induced lung cancer from smoking-induced lung cancer. This topic was even discussed at the 2015 Helsinki conference on asbestos disease.

During a recent webinar on asbestos science and litigation, over 60 percent of the actuaries, insurance company executives, accountants, and regulators predicted that that over the next 5–10 years, scientific studies related to asbestos would have a “major impact.”

We agree. And, therefore, 2016 will bring monthly commentary on asbestos and science topics focused on lung cancer and non-asbestos co-factors. Tobacco is the obvious co-carcinogen of interest, but we keep hearing about other alleged exposures. Aside from smoking, which is the strongest and best described co-carcinogen for lung cancer, studies have also linked a host of other exposures, including coal tar (specifically, benzo(a)pyrene), radon and other ionizing radiation, certain drugs, and even some types of viruses.

We also intend to explore other molecular aspects of lung cancer. For example, we will review genetic testing data to look for inherited mutations that appear to drive lung cancers in non-smokers. We also will be watching for data on the BAP1 gene and lung cancers other than mesothelioma. We also may touch on the broader topic of biomarkers as possible signatures for developing disease, and increasing numbers of screening programs paid for by Medicare or other medical plans now focusing more and more on prevention and/or early detection.

Starting in January, 2016, this portion of the blog will include a monthly post focused on a current topic related to molecular and genomic sciences as they relate to asbestos and lung cancer, focusing on the role of co-carcinogens (as well as other studies that may be relevant and of interest to asbestos defendants and insurers). We plan to assess plaintiff expert reports and depositions, defense expert viewpoints, newly published literature; and scientific and medical guidelines. We welcome questions or submissions of expert reports or testimony by readers of the blog.

How Are You Monitoring the Science?

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David H. Schwartz, Ph.D.

Kirk Hartley, Esq.