Law360 (June 19, 2017) — There is no question that talc is toxic and can cause genetic alterations linked to cancer, a toxicology expert for three women who died of ovarian cancer after using Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder products told a Missouri jury on Monday.
During the second day of the trial in St. Louis, the sixth such trial over J&J’s talc in the city, the families of deceased former J&J talcum powder product users Shawn Blaes, Angela Dawn Hershman and Eron Evans called to the stand pharmacology and toxicology expert and former pharmaceutical industry consultant Laura M. Plunkett. Plunkett said that based on an extensive review of scientific literature, she had no doubts about talc’s toxicity.
“I don’t think there’s any question talc is toxic,” she said. “And I’m going to talk about the evidence today, I don’t feel there’s any question about this at all, it’s taught in textbooks.”
Plunkett said that the most likely way that talc could cause cancer was through epigenetic effects, by which the talc molecules would enter human cells and in various ways change how those cells express their genes, interfering with the normal function of those cells and possibly spawning tumors.
“We’re going to see papers about talc altering expression of genes that control the growth of the cell,” she said. “So the effects of these genes no longer control the cell growth properly, or it grows too much, that’s that cancer response.”
Plunkett explained to the jury, in thorough detail, other ways that talc can damage human body cells and possibly lead to cancer. She said that talc can cause long-term inflammation in human tissues, which damages and eventually kills cells, and is a condition that is linked with cancer, as well as arthritis, some cardiovascular diseases and more.
Blaes died at age 50 in 2010, while living in Missouri, after being diagnosed with cancer in 2008, according to a pre-trial announcement by her attorneys. Virginia resident Hershman died at age 46 in 2016, two years after she was diagnosed with cancer, and Evans was a Texas resident and 41 years old when she died in 2016, after being diagnosed in in 2008, according to their attorneys. The three women shared a number of similarities in their personal and medical histories that led to their claims being consolidated for trial, according to the announcement.
The three deceased women’s trial, presided over by St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Rex Burlison, is the sixth such trial over the alleged link between J&J’s talcum powder products and ovarian cancer to head to trial in the city. The company has been hit with verdicts totaling over $300 million in the first handful of cases about the talc-ovarian cancer link to go to trial in St. Louis.