Jewish Ozzies' Inter.Net
The electronic voice of the Australian Jewish Community
As long as an individual is of Ashkenazi descent, and
over 18 years of age, they are eligible to participate.
The project is called the Melbourne Ashkenazi Bowel Cancer Study and has been organised through a collaborative effort between Monash University Department of Surgery at Cabrini Hospital, the Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute and with considerable financial input and support from private benefactors from the Jewish community.
The study has been running for almost a year now, with 230 individuals recruited to date. However, we still require the participation of many more members of the Jewish community in order to obtain the statistical significance we are hoping for.
Uncommon single gene disorders leading to bowel and breast cancer have been well characterised over the past 5 years. However, our understanding of more subtle genetic changes that are likely to represent more important determinants of cancer at a population level is still evolving.
Recent reports from the US, UK and Israel have shown a gene variant that occurs in a significant proportion of Ashkenazi Jews, and occurs even more frequently in those with a family history of colorectal cancer. This change, known as "I1307K", could help to provide an explanation as to why colorectal cancer has its highest incidence in Jews of Ashkenazi origin (a lifetime risk of 1 in 10-12 in comparison with the Australian population risk of 1 in 20), a fact which has previously been attributed to cultural differences in diet and lifestyle.
Genetic susceptibility testing for cancer, such as that which is currently performed for the breast cancer genes and other inherited conditions predisposing to bowel cancer, is still highly controversial. However, the potential to predict the age of onset, severity, and sometimes even survival characteristics of particular cancers through the identification of an inherited mutation is undeniable. Much of the mortality caused by inherited early-onset cancers is potentially, if not demonstrably, preventable by heightened surveillance and/or prophylactic surgery.
The aims of the study are two-fold. Primarily, it is looking at the incidence of the afore-mentioned gene variant in Melbourne's Ashkenazi population. The opportunity to screen members of this community will be extremely valuable in attempting to validate the initial observations of researchers in the US, UK and Israel. This is an important process which is required before any recommendations can be made as to the possible benefit of enhanced screening for bowel cancer for individuals carrying this variant. In addition, the Melbourne Jewish population is unique in that it has disparate gene pools that will allow us to look at the incidence of these gene variants in more detail.
The second aim of the study is to attempt to assess the impact of genetic testing and research on the Jewish community. This is important because of the increasing frequency of studies being carried out on members of the Ashkenazi population and the lack of material that has been published regarding the experiences and perceptions individuals have of being "singled out" for these scientific endeavours. The study has the support of many prominent members of the Jewish community and it is our hope that as many members of the Jewish population will be informed and offered the opportunity to participate.
The Director of the Melbourne Ashkenazi Bowel Cancer Study, gastroenterologist, Dr Henry Debinski, says that he has "no doubt that there will be a significantly high frequency of this gene variant in Melbourne's Ashkenazi community". Other key personnel involved in the development and execution of this project include, Professor Adrian Polglase, head of the Monash University Department of Surgery and Associate Professor Julian Savalescu, director of the Ethics Department at the Murdoch Institute.
For further information, please contact Lisette Curnow on (03) 9656-1914.
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