Students at Brigham Young University (BYU) recently published research that could lead to the prevention of certain birth defects and how certain types of cancer were treated. Guided by one of their professors, the students' research was aimed at birth defects caused by Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or Andersen Tawil Syndrome, which include cleft palates, small or missing teeth, and misshaped fingers and toes. The students discovered that both syndromes impacted a potassium channel by blocking instructions that, in essence, told cells where they should be located. By blocking the instructions, these syndromes prevent instructions for patterning and an organism from emerging. This, in turn, may result in birth defects.
The students also determined that these instructions could lead to cancer under different circumstances. Once a baby is born, the cell pattern instructions should ideally be turned off so that the cells remain in place. In cancer cells, however, the signals turn back on, allowing cells to invade other tissues and grow into tumors. The BYU students hope to be able to develop a way to block the signaling pathway that leads to cells metastasizing, preventing cancer cells from spreading through the body.
This research is exciting both for the possibilities it holds for cancer and for birth defects. Someday, perhaps sophisticated tests could be developed that would allow expectant couples to find out whether their developing fetus has impacted potassium channels or other cases of blocked instructions that could lead to birth defects. Perhaps treatments could be developed that would make cell instructions normal again, before birth defects had the chance to set in.
Such possibilities are years, if not decades, away. In the meantime, if your child has a birth defect, you and your family live with it now, every day. While some birth defects are minor, others require extensive treatments and come with large medical bills. With Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Andersen Tawil Syndrome, the culprits are personal habits and genetics respectively, but many birth defects are caused by outside sources. These sources can consist of a wide range of threats, from toxic herbicides to products you use in your household, from certain medications that you have been prescribed to mercury emissions from a power plant. If you believe that one of these sources is responsible for your child's birth defect, you might consider filing a lawsuit.
Generally, such lawsuits fall into two categories: toxic tort and product liability. In both cases, you would argue that the source had a duty, that duty was breached, the breach caused your injury, and there was damage. The "duty" is to anyone who could be foreseeably impacted by the source's actions. So if the source is a power plant, the duty might be the surrounding community; if the source is a household cleaner, the duty might be to the consumers who purchase and use the product. The breach usually consists of unreasonable behavior.
The major difference between a product liability lawsuit and a toxic tort case is that under product liability, a manufacturer can be found strictly liable even if the manufacturer's behavior was not negligent. The manufacturer just needs to have created an unreasonably dangerous product. By contrast, a toxic tort breach involves some sort of negligence. In both cases, you can seek a money award that can help you with your child's lifelong care.