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Helping to save lives

Helping to save lives

Áine Ryan

Mayo women are taking part in breast cancer research which it is claimed could save the lives of thousands of women around the world.
The Mayo News has learned that the research project, being jointly run at Mayo General Hospital, University College Hospital Galway (UCHG), and Cancer Research UK hopes to identify a number of undiscovered genes that cause breast cancer. 
It has emerged that women aged over 60 from Counties Mayo and Galway are ideal subjects for the research because of the relative isolation and homogeneity of the population.
“We estimate there are about 50 to 100 genes causing breast cancer that have not yet been discovered. Because the populations of Mayo and Galway have been so static, we believe it is an ideal area to identify these genes,” said Dr Gabrielle Colleran, a surgical research fellow at UCHG.
Over the past four months Dr  Colleran has been involved in recruiting 1,200 participants, 50 per cent of whom have had the disease and 50 per cent of whom have not.  The research team still needs 500 more volunteers who have not had cancer.
“When we have gathered all the samples, I will relocate to London where we will examine the entire genetic structure of blood samples extracted from both groups of women . We will then look at the genetic differences that stand out, thus isolating the cancer prone genes,” explained Dr Colleran.
“It is hoped that in two to three years time we will be able to offer screening to these women’s daughters and if they have the identified genes we will categorise them as high risk and monitor them closely,” she continued.  It is also envisaged that a service will be provided for genetic programming. 
Retired teacher, Ms Una Quinn, Westport, told The Mayo News that, while she had not been aware of the initiative she welcomed it.  “I happen to be one of the lucky women to have survived breast cancer. In my view, anything that  makes further inroads towards early diagnosis must be welcomed and given every support,” she said.
County Mayo’s Breast Care Nurse Specialist, Ms Assumpta Walsh also stressed the project’s importance
“We are delighted here at Mayo General to be involved in the project,  since we are acutely aware of the higher incidence of breast cancer in Mayo and Galway,” she said. Nurse Walsh runs a symptomatic clinic at the hospital every Friday morning.
The research got under way after Professor Ian Tomlinson, of Cancer Research UK, approached the Department of Surgery in Galway and asked if it would be interested in a collaborative project. It was later decided to involve Mayo General Hospital and its specialist team led by consultant surgeon, Mr Kevin Barry and Clinical Nurse Specialist, Ms Assumpta Walsh.
The first type of genetic breast cancer was discovered in 1990 and, in medical terminology, is called BRCA1.  It is the cause of approximately 10 per cent of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.
Dr Gabrielle Colleran told The Mayo News that any individual or group interested in participating in the project, or organising a coffee morning during which recruits could donate blood samples may contact her at Mob:  086-8201274.
She also said she wished to acknowledge her research fellowship is being sponsored by the National Breast Cancer Research Institute.