Pilgrims’ progress: Genetic data from 1630s backs health benefits of cancer screening

Pilgrims ProgressSALT LAKE CITY, March 25, 2009 – In the 1630s, the Fry family came to the New World with more than just dreams of prosperity and freedom — they also came with a genetic mutation that increased the likelihood of colon cancer in hundreds, if not thousands, of their descendants. The scientists who traced that gene back almost 370 years are now reporting that routine screening and education can prevent people with the mutated gene from developing cancer.

Their new report on Mr. and Mrs. George Fry, who likely arrived in Massachusetts colony aboard the William & Mary, was presented today at the 237th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Deb Neklason, Ph.D., and colleagues explained how they used cancer records and a massive genealogic archive known as the Utah Population Database (UPDB) to trace the genetic condition to a Utah pioneer family and their 7,000 descendents. A New York family with the same genetic condition was also linked to the Utah group, which helped trace the two families back 16 generations to the Frys. The gene mutation causes a condition known as attenuated familial adenomatous polyposis (AFAP). AFAP causes the growth of colorectal polyps that have the potential to become cancerous.

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