Jewish Ozzies' Inter.Net
The electronic voice of the Australian Jewish Community

Melbourne Ashkenazi Bowel Cancer Study
Examines genetic susceptibility of Ashkenazi Jews in Melbourne.
More Participants Needed

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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