Universities partner in an initiative to use genetic data to prevent Hereditary Cancer

Brigham Young University (BYU) Center for Family History and Genealogy and the University of Washington have partnered to prevent hereditary cancer using genetic data.

The Connect My Variant project will use DNA information and family history to increase preventative cancer care. The project is funded by seattle-based Brotman Baty Institute for Precision Medicine.

Director of the BYU Center for Family History and Genealogy, Jill Crandell, said: “A number of medical conditions are hereditary, so we can learn about the immediate family medical history and inform our doctors when we visit.

“With DNA testing among the general population, it’s now possible to learn of hereditary diseases that have come down to us from an ancestor many generations back.

“It’s possible to contact distant cousins to inform each other of extended family risks. Hereditary cancer is one disease where knowing your genealogy and your extended family medical history could save your life.”

According to Dr. Brian Shirts, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor of laboratory medicine and pathology at the University of Washington, ‘hereditary cancer can be eliminated  if people know their family history’.

Mutations in genes like BRCA1 and BRCA2 cause more than a 50 per cent of lifetime risk of ovarian or breast cancer. Identifying these variants in living relatives can help prevent cancer for a few people.

Crandell said, “After Dr. Shirts identifies participants who have the variant, he sends them to our team at BYU. We’re able to do the research on their family lines and help identify which ancestor may have had the variant.

“Once we’ve identified the ancestor, we can do research and find relatives that the participant can contact and tell them of their potential increased chance of cancer. This is helpful because most people don’t know their relatives beyond first cousins.”

You can read more about the initiative here.

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