High School Guest Post: Fight for the Cure

Last week, I wrote about the high school science bloggers in Ms. Baker’s biology classes at Staten Island Academy. Over the next few weeks, I will be publishing several guest posts that have been written by Ms. Baker’s students.

Today’s post comes from ninth-grader Taylor, who would like to be an oncologist. (Note: At Ms. Baker’s request, I am withholding the last names of the students–if you are interested in contacting any of them, Ms. Baker asks that you please get in touch with her at extremebiology@gmail.com.) I have not done any editing–the post, which begins below, is all Taylor’s own work. –EA

Fight for the Cure
By Taylor
9th Grade
Staten Island Academy

One of the most rewarding experiences of living in such a technologically advanced time period is being able to witness the everyday advancements of science on the medical world. Perhaps what is most fascinating is the idea that one day the diseases that plagued past generations will maybe be eradicated or at least treatable, and maybe it will happen in our lifetime. Over the last two years a new technology for discovering genes, genotyping chip technology, has greatly contributed to scientific advancement. Genotyping chip technology screens work by detecting single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the DNA code. The identification of these SNPs allows researchers to establish what version of a gene is present, as well as which genes are associated with various other diseases. Identifying the genes that lead to the development of genetic disorders, diseases caused by abnormalities in an individuals genetic material (DNA), could save millions of lives.

One disease in particular that could be detected early on using genetic screening is breast cancer. Breast cancer is a disease in which malignant cancer cells form in the breast tissue. Women in the United States develop breast cancer more frequently than any other form of cancer except for skin cancer. It is second only to lung cancer as a cause of cancer related deaths in women. Each year it is estimated that nearly 200,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer and more than 40,000 will die. Approximately 1,700 men will also be diagnosed with breast cancer and 450 will die each year. Many cases of breast cancer have been linked to mutations found in the BRCA1 and BRCA 2 genes. BRCA1 and BRCA2 are genes that belong to a class of known as tumor suppressor genes. In normally functioning cells, BRCA1 and BRCA2 help ensure the stability of the cell’s DNA, help prevent uncontrolled cell growth, and help to repair damaged DNA. Mutations of these genes have been linked to the development of hereditary breast cancer. How do BRCA1 and BRCA2 become mutated, and if your parent has it how likely is it that you will inherit it?

This is not to say that only mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA 2 will cause breast cancer, because there are several other agents that can lead to the development of breast cancer, but mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 are found in many cases of breast cancer and are found in more than half of hereditary cases. According to estimates of lifetime risk, about 12 percent of women in the general population will develop breast cancer sometime during their lives. Ultimately, a woman who has inherited a mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2 is about five times more likely to develop breast cancer than a woman who does not have such a mutation. Genetic testing for mutations in BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 at an early age can detect this mutation before the cancer has even developed and allows the person to take preventative and life saving measures. One simple blood test can save your life, not only from detecting breast cancer but several other genetic diseases can also be identified by analyzing each individuals DNA. Would you be willing to have blood taken for the purpose of discovering your own genetic defects, if you have any?

Image: 1. Flickr/Mohammad Khairul Alam 2. Flickr/neomatrix1

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