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Asbestos plaintiffs awarded $19.4M despite gene mutation defense

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Sep 11, 2015

After defendants raised the BAP1 genetic mutation defense in an asbestos lawsuit, a California judge awarded the plaintiff and his wife $19,449,863 in damages on June 23.

Judge Brad Beligman of the Alameda County Superior Court entered a judgment for plaintiffs Antonia and Raquel Perez and against Universal Fleet Supply, an auto parts supply company, following a general civil court trial. In his complaint, Perez claims he developed mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos dust from asbestos-containing brakes manufactured by the defendant.

The Perez case is one of five known cases to have introduced the BAP1 genetic mutation defense: Ortwein v. Certainteed Corporation, Perez v. ArvinMeritor, Inc., McCarthy v. Baltimore Aircoil, Co., Bergstrom v. 84 Lumber and Bernard v. Colgate-Palmolive Co.

The McCarthy case has been voluntarily dismissed by the plaintiffs in the Los Angeles County Superior Court. The remaining cases are still ongoing in their respective jurisdictions (Ortwein – Alameda County Superior Court, Bergstrom – Missouri’s 22nd Circuit Court in St. Louis, and Bernard – New York Supreme Court).

The BAP1 defense seems to be slowly working its way into asbestos courtrooms, and it is likely that more cases have introduced the argument. However, the defense remains controversial.

Dr. Joseph R. Testa, geneticist and professor at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, worked alongside Dr. Michele Carbone of the University of Hawaii to first discover that those with BAP1 mutations had a predisposition to mesothelioma.

The most recent study on BAP1 mutations titled “Minimal asbestos exposure in germline BAP1 heterozygous mice is associated with deregulated inflammatory response and increased risk of mesothelioma,” was released on June 29 by Carbone, A. Napolitano, L. Pellegrini, A. Dey, D. Larson, M. Tanji, E. G. Flores, B. Kendrick, D. Lapid, A. Powers, S. Kanodia, S. Pastorino, H.I. Pass, V. Dixit and H. Yang.

The study was performed on mice and re-established that those with the genetic mutation have a “significantly” increased risk of developing malignant mesothelioma with minimal exposure to asbestos.

Malignant mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer typically developed as a result of asbestos exposure, often times occupational asbestos exposure.

However, researchers believe the BAP1 gene predisposes a person to develop mesothelioma with even small amounts of asbestos exposure.

In fact, the study states that to date, the researchers have “found that none of the mesothelioma patients carrying germline BAP1 mutations were professionally exposed to asbestos.” That means those with the genetic mutation were exposed through background exposure and other third-party exposures.

In the June study involving mice, the group hypothesized that the BAP1 genetic mutation “might influence the asbestos-induced inflammatory response that it linked to asbestos carcinogenesis, thereby increasing the risk of developing mesothelioma after minimal exposure.”

In their study, the researchers compared BAP1 carrying mice with their “wild-type” littermates by exposing each group to asbestos. They found that the genetically mutated mice had a significantly higher rate of developing mesothelioma after limited asbestos exposure, the same doses that “rarely” caused mesothelioma in the wild mice.

“Our findings suggest that minimal exposure to carcinogenic fibers may significantly increase the risk of malignant mesothelioma in genetically predisposed individuals carrying germline BAP1 mutations, possibly via alterations of the inflammatory response,” the study states.

While scientists looking deeper into the controversial genetic mutation tend to agree that it increases someone’s chance of developing mesothelioma, another study that came out last year suggests that BAP1 carriers with mesothelioma also live approximately seven times longer than those without the genetic mutation.

The September 2014 study called “Mesothelioma patients with germline BAP1 mutations have seven-fold improved long-term survival” was released by researchers Francine Bauman, Erin Flores, Andrea Napolitano, Shreya Kamodia, Emanuela Taioli, Harvey Pass, Haining Yang and Carbone.

“Here, we tested the hypothesis that malignant mesothelioma associated with germline BAP1 mutations has a better prognosis compared to sporadic malignant mesothelioma,” the study states.

In the study, they compared survival periods among germline BAP1 mutation mesothelioma patients with all mesothelioma recordings in the US SEER data from 1973 to 2010.

They were able to identify 23 patients – 11 of which were still alive at the time of the study – who were carriers of the BAP1 mutation. Additionally, 13 of those patients had one or more malignancies in addition to the mesothelioma.

Researchers found that the median survival for mesothelioma patients with BAP1 mutations was five years, while the median survival for mesothelioma patients without the BAP1 mutation was less than one year.

Further, there was a 47 percent chance of surviving five years with mesothelioma for BAP1 carriers, as compared to 6.7 percent chance of surviving five years with mesothelioma for those without the genetic mutation.

Additionally, they found that BAP1 carriers with peritoneal malignant mesothelioma (cancer in the lining of the abdomen) as well as those with additional malignancies lived longer than patients with pleural malignant mesothelioma (cancer in the lining of the lungs), with a median survival of 10 years.

“In conclusion, we found that malignant mesothelioma patients with germline BAP1 mutations have an overall seven-fold increased long-term survival, independently of sex and age,” the study states.

Although the BAP1 mutation is still being studied, researchers believe it may lead to a cure for mesothelioma in the future.

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