Albany high school student adds to understanding of breast cancer gene

A high school student from Albany, New York, has made a significant contribution toward understanding how mutations to a gene called BRCA-1 contributes to hereditary breast cancer.

Meaghan Figge, a sophomore at Albany Academy for Girls, published her results in the June issue of Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, detailing the likely sites for BRCA-1 mutations leading to breast cancer. Figge is a student member of the American Association for Cancer Research, which publishes CEBP.

Figge pursued her research in memory of her grandmother, Helen Luciw, who died from breast cancer at age 64. Meaghan was in the fourth grade at the time, and in the years since, wondered whether screening methods other than the mammogram that detected her grandmother's tumor could diagnose cancer at an earlier stage. Her curiosity led her to the literature biomedical research where she learned about BRCA-1, which under normal circumstances, acts to suppress tumors.

"I was curious about BRCA-1 gene," Figge recalled. "On my own time, I read literature and did independent science research at my school to learn all I could about how this gene was related to breast cancer."

Figge learned that normally, the BRCA-1 protein acts to suppress breast and ovarian tumors in women.

But when the genetic code for BRCA-1 is errantly altered, the gene may lose its ability to suppress tumors.

"Some women inherit abnormal forms of BRCA-1 and are at an increased risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer," she said.

The abnormal forms of the gene result in a protein form of BRCA-1 that contains amino acid substitutions that differ from the normal gene. Changes in the amino acid composition of the BRCA-1 protein stem from alterations in the genetic sequence of nucleotides that make up the coding for the gene, which is part of each woman's unique DNA makeup.

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Contact: Russell Vanderboom
American Association for Cancer Research

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