New era for BRCA gene testing

A new era for BRCA gene testing

With Myriad Genetics recently losing their patents on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, improved testing for inherited gene defects that could lead to breast and ovarian cancers are a step closer to being more accessible to women around the world.

Dr Scott Grist leads the Inherited Cancer Genetics Lab at Flinders, where all test processing of the BRCA1 & BRCA2 genes is undertaken for South Australia. He also leads a Flinders Centre for Innovation in Cancer research group exploring these genes to improve screening for inherited cancers.

“Private companies in Australia have not been able to access the genes until now,” said Dr Grist. “With the patent now dissolved in the US, these companies can invest time and resources that could lead to better diagnostic tests and technologies that may one-day help reduce the cost of the test.”

While making the test more accessible could lead to improved prevention of these cancers, further research on inherited cancers is required.

“About 5 per cent of Australian women have a strong family history of breast and ovarian cancers,” said Dr Grist. “Yet 80 per cent of these women don’t show a mutation in either of the BRCA genes.”

Scott has spent many years seeking ways to improve the BRCA1 and 2 tests in the hope of making it more useful for women without a strong history of breast and ovarian cancer.

There is currently no way of telling if these women or their relatives have a greater risk of developing the disease than others and treatment decisions must be made which are not based on genetic information.

“We hope that with further research of the BRCA genes and the many other genes that interact with them, we may find other gene mutations so we can help these women understand their family history and make more informed decisions.”

This research will also lead to a better understanding of how breast cancers develop.

“While a healthy patent system is required to ensure that investments are made in inventive research that will improve health and wellbeing, ones like the BRCA and other gene patents only inhibit progress, as they have no direct invention related to them,” said Dr Grist.

For more information on this and other exciting breast and ovarian cancer research please visit the Flinders Medical Centre Foundation website.