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Last Updated: Monday, 17 September 2007, 09:54 GMT 10:54 UK
DNA test hope over damages claims
Genetic analysis
The technique analyses the effect of chemicals
Scientists say a new DNA test may help prove if people have had their health damaged by exposure to chemicals.

Samples of DNA are taken from a healthy person and exposed to the chemicals to see which genes are affected. This is then compared to the claimants' DNA.

Experts say it could have huge implications on civil cases where workers seek compensation for illnesses caused by things such as asbestos.

The technique was developed by Dr Bruce Gillis at the University of Illinois.

More than 3,000 people a year die from asbestos-related diseases in the UK and the numbers are predicted to rise to 10,000 by 2020.

Speed

Dr Gillis said the technique - named msds1 - could prove an invaluable way of speeding up such cases, which can often drag on for years.

It can read the specific pattern of changes to DNA triggered by exposure to a chemical.

This unique DNA "fingerprint" can then be compared to samples taken from people making claims.

The most high-profile fight over exposure to chemicals involved Erin Brockovich.

Her fight against Pacific Gas and Electric inspired a film starring Julia Roberts.

Dr Gillis said civil courts in California have already heard more than 20 cases that used evidence from the technique.

In one case, a worker at a company selling tyres sued his employers alleging that he had suffered illness as a result of exposure to benzene.

Liberty Mutual, the employer's insurers, paid for the test to be carried out which proved the illness was not caused by the chemical, saving an estimated 1m in damages.

But Mr Gillis said in other cases the test had tipped the balance towards claimants.

"A man had been exposed to a mixture of eight chemicals and developed gall bladder cancer.

"None of the chemicals was a carcinogen on its own, but we showed that in combination they increased the activity of cancer-causing genes."


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