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Feb 19, 2021

A Public Health Initiative Involving Family Genealogy and Cancer-Causing Variants Hoping to Prevent All Hereditary Cancer

In partnership with the Center for Family History and Genealogy at BYU (Brigham Young University), and the Center for Family History and Genealogy at BYU, a research effort is underway with one major goal: to prevent hereditary cancer.

Leaders behind the project say Utah is the best place to start because people in the state know their family history really well.

Brian Shirts, an M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor of laboratory medicine and pathology at the University of Washington is spearheading a research effort to prevent hereditary cancer. In partnership with Brigham Young University (BYU), Shirts joined Jill Crandall, the director of the Center for Family History and Genealogy at BYU, and an associate professor in the history department, and professor of family history, along with Julie Stoddard, the center coordinator at the Center for Family History and Genealogy at BYU, to conduct such research.

Dr. Shirts had a thought: what if people knew about their cancer risks based on their family history? And he started to dive in to the question.

“We’re working in conjunction with the University of Washington to identify individuals who may have cancer-causing genetic variants,” Stoddard said. “These individuals are identified through genealogical research on the different lines of these participants who have the same variants.

“What Dr. Shirts does is he finds these participants who have the variant and then he sends them to our BYU team. We do the research on their pedigrees to help them identify which ancestor may have had the variant. And then look for those descendants of those ancestors so they can be identified, and the participants can reach out and tell them of their increased chance of cancer.”

“Hereditary-cancer risk is something that affects about 1 percent of the population. But this is inherited in families, so it’s not just a random 1 percent of the population,” Shirts said.

These inherited genes — such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 that cause breast cancer or one of four genes that causes Lynch Syndrome, which creates a higher risk for developing certain types of cancer, particularly of the colon — cause more than a 50 percent lifetime risk of cancer for the people who inherit them, Shirts observed.

You can read a lot more in an article by Curt Gresseth publish in the KSL News web site at: https://kslnewsradio.com/1943437/genealogy-cancer-research-beginning-in-utah/.

Feb 19, 2021

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