American genome expert Mary-Claire King, whose work resulted in the identification of the breast cancer gene BRCA1 and transformed the diagnosis and treatment of the disease, on Tuesday expressed faith in Indian scientists to make technology cheaper for breast cancer detection. “We need to tackle this problem with modern 21st century tools. The actual cost of sequencing patients dropped from about $4,000 to $250 (around Rs 16,000) in the US in the last few years. Indians are incredibly good at making technology better, faster and cheaper,” she said.
King was addressing a packed audience of researchers, students and faculty at a lecture here on ‘Understanding Inherited Breast and Ovarian Cancer: From Gene Discovery to Precision Medicine and Public Health’ for The Cell Press-TNQ India distinguished Lectureship Series, 2017. It was supported by National Institute of Biomedical Genomics, Kalyani.
For India, the US National Medal of Science awardee proposed that every breast and ovarian cancer patient be tested genetically for mutations BRCA1 and BRCA2 as well as other known breast and ovarian cancer genes.
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Specific inherited mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 increase the risk of female breast and ovarian cancers, and they have been associated with increased risks of several additional types of cancer.
“My proposition for India is every breast and ovarian cancer patient should be sequenced for mutations to BRCA1 and BRCA2 and all other known breast and ovarian cancer genes. I am not suggesting that in the resource limited context here that all women above the age of 30 be screened, just begin with patients,” said the University of Washington professor.
Testing could help women predisposed to mutations to make an informed choice on whether to opt for risk-reducing surgery, chemoprevention and also encourage follow-ups of sisters and daughters of patients (there’s a 50 per cent chance of passing it along).
The 71-year-old active researcher dubbed cervical cancer a “disease of poor women” while breast cancer is one of those “rare conditions that is a disease of prosperity”.
“The reason that breast cancer incidences are going up is because we are the most successful mammals that have ever lived, by this we mean we are fabulous. We are fertile longer, we are able and we are fit, we retain cognitive functions longer,” she added.
In addition to her work on identifying breast cancer genes, King is recognised worldwide for demonstrating that humans and chimpanzees are 99 per cent genetically identical and applying genomic sequencing to identify victims of human rights abuses (Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo in Argentina wanted King to find their kidnapped grandchildren).