A new DNA technology, developed by a team of doctors in the US, could totally eliminate frivolous lawsuits against the insurance industry, it has been claimed.
The genomics-based technology, developed over two and a half years by the University of Illinois’ College of Medicine, can determine how human cells and their individual DNA respond when exposed to a chemical, said lead author Bruce Gillis.
The insurance industry pays out billions in claims connected to chemicals and other toxins.
The technology, recently endorsed by the American Bar Association and peer-reviewed in two scientific journals, has been used in more than two dozen workers’ compensation cases in the US.
Gillis said he was currently meeting US insurers to discuss how DNA will revolutionise the way companies deal with litigation involving chemical or toxic exposure.
He said: “If someone claims they have been exposed to mould or asbestos or any other chemical, we can tell within 99.9% accuracy if that exposure had any harmful effects.”
Gillis said the DNA technology could also significantly speed up the settlement process by quickly confirming whether a case was legitimate.
The technology would have been particularly useful in the case of Toys R Us recalling 27,000 crayon and paint box sets made in China, after it was discovered the printed ink on the packaging contained lead.
Gillis said: “Over $100bn has been spent on asbestos litigation alone and we believe we could have eliminated 85% to 90% of that.”
Phil Bell, group casualty director for Royal & SunAlliance, said he believed there would be significant interest within the UK insurance industry, but many questions first needed to be asked.
“To be able to prove a chemical caused a reaction would not necessarily prove fault or liability.
“It could be used as a tool to defend or support a claim, but it won’t necessarily on its own provide conclusive evidence.”
Identifying the impact of chemicals on DNA
The genomics technology, called msds1, uses thumbnail sized chips containing hundreds of thousands of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). They allow researchers to scan an individualâ€™s DNA to determine if specific genes have been altered due to exposure to a particular chemical.
The process can identify exactly how up to 36,000 parameters of a personâ€™s DNA are affected by a chemical and its metabolites. Scientists can then tell within 99.9% certainty if a person was injured by exposure to a particular toxin.
Genomics specifies how chemical exposure impacts cells and metabolites by measuring the release by a cell of small proteins called cytokines.
With msds1, it is now possible to determine whether a personâ€™s medical problem is due to a particular chemical exposure, according the University of Illinois team which pioneered the technology.
The team claims the technology can be used to save billions of dollars in litigation in various fields including, the insurance industry.