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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hartley

Mesothelioma Biomarkers – The Latest Paper Reaches the New England Journal of Medicine

At first it was the PAS antigen test for prostate cancer. Now cancer biomarkers are arriving for more and more other cancers. Their arrival is logical as molecular biology continues to explode, and researchers and doctors seek to find and treat disease when the tumors are less pervasive and hopefully more manageable. There are special pressures to look for tumors such as mesothelioma, a tumor that is often lethal in a very short time, and that often leads to litigation.

The newest mesothelioma biomarker paper is published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and is by Dr. Harvey Pass et al. The paper is summarized here. The science appears promising and relates to a glycoprotein known as fibulin-3.

On the legal side, the summary offers multiple points worth noting:

Today’s scientific tools are now being applied to previously collected samples of blood and tumors. The past samples are not perfect research tools for multiple reasons. But, they exist and are increasingly are being tapped, along with new "fresh frozen" tumor samples that are better for genomic analysis. Overall, both the old and new samples are fueling increasingly fast-paced changes in knowledge about mesothelioma. Set out below are a couple of key sentences on the past data collections:

"To test the idea, they measured fibulin-3 levels in stored plasma samples from 92 patients with mesothelioma, 136 people exposed to asbestos but who did not have the disease, 93 patients with effusions not caused by mesothelioma, and 43 healthy controls.

They also measured levels in stored effusions from 74 patients with mesothelioma, 39 with benign effusions, and 54 with malignant effusions not caused by mesothelioma. Some participants had both types of samples.

The stored samples were collected in Detroit from 1998 through 2005 and in New York from 2005 through 2011, Pass and colleagues reported."

Also note the funding sources listed at the bottom of the summary article. The list makes plain that asbestos plaintiff’s firms are continuing to increase their support for scientific research. No doubt they are paying attention to the results. On the other hand, most asbestos defendants and insurers are not paying real attention to science, much less investing in research or the related goodwill that arises from doing the right thing. The consequences seem foreseeable.

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