Breakthrough: The Race to Find The Breast Cancer Gene

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September 1994. "The most impassioned and publicly visible of all genetic races" (The New York Times) comes to a triumphant close with the discovery of BRCA1, popularly known as the breast cancer gene. The result of a four-year international effort involving scientists from the United States, Canada, England, France, and Japan, among others, it is hailed as one of the most significant discoveries in recent medical science. Breakthrough is the brilliant account of this historic undertaking, its origins and ...
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Overview

September 1994. "The most impassioned and publicly visible of all genetic races" (The New York Times) comes to a triumphant close with the discovery of BRCA1, popularly known as the breast cancer gene. The result of a four-year international effort involving scientists from the United States, Canada, England, France, and Japan, among others, it is hailed as one of the most significant discoveries in recent medical science. Breakthrough is the brilliant account of this historic undertaking, its origins and development, and its implications for the future. With vivid profiles of the people and politics behind the events, Kevin Davies and Michael White unfold a scientific detective story that offers a rare glimpse into the complex - and fiercely competitive - world of genetic research. The race began in October 1990, when Dr. Mary-Claire King startled the American society of Human Genetics with the news that after fifteen years, her research group had found irrefutable evidence of a gene linking heredity and the risk of breast cancer. From that moment on, the quest to isolate the gene became the focus of worldwide attention, eventually reaching fever pitch. In a race against time and one another, "researchers relentlessly zeroed in on a piece of DNA too small to see, for a prize too enormous to contemplate." In addition to the pioneering Dr. King, the distinguished scientists profiled include the renowned Francis Collins, who discovered the genes for cystic fibrosis and Huntington's disease, and Mark Skolnick, the entrepreneurial founder of Myriad Genetics, who made fascinating use of the genealogical records of Mormons in his quest for the gene. The intensity of the project brought out the extremes of scientific research, from exhilarating enthusiasm and cooperation to heated rivalry. Beyond its fast-paced chronicle of discovery, Breakthrough is also a story of the politics of illness, focusing on the impact of the women's movement on breast cancer research and t

"...recounts ths story of the race to find the breast cancer gene...provides profiles of the people involved and delves into the stories and politics behind significant events in the search for a cure."

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In 1970, after a 15-year search, University of California geneticist Mary-Claire King proved the existence of a gene, called BRCA1, that if damaged can predispose women to breast and ovarian cancer. Four years later, the actual gene was isolated by University of Utah researcher Mark Skolnick-who used Mormon families' genealogies to pinpoint his prey, working in collaboration with geneticist Roger Wiseman's small, government-funded North Carolina laboratory. Another key player in this competitive race was Francis Collins, director of the U.S. Genome Project. As the authors note, screening tests to identify women who have inherited faulty copies of BRCA1 are presently offered almost exclusively in a research-only context; nor is this the only gene that can predispose women to breast or ovarian cancer. Nevertheless, Davies, editor of Nature Genetics, and White, a biographer of Stephen Hawking, believe that BRCA1 can provide a breakthrough in the search for a cure, and their report is top-notch science writing. (Feb.)
Library Journal
Davies, editor of the research journal Nature Genetics, and White, coauthor of the highly regarded Stephen Hawking: A Life in Science (LJ 5/1/92), are well qualified to write this account of the discovery of the breast cancer gene and to trace the years of scientific inquiry and collaborations leading up to the highly publicized news announcements in September 1994. Their readable, accessible account focuses on the careers of three scientists-Mark Skolnick of Myriad Genetics in Utah, who shared discovery credit with 44 other scientists; Mary-Clare King of Berkeley; and Francis Collins, discoverer of the cystic fibrosis and Huntingdon's Disease genes, and since 1993 head of the National Center for Human Genome Research. Ironically, the discovery's therapeutic, prognostic, and diagnostic implications for patients are still primarily in the lab. But, as a result, the medical choices available to patients and public policy, funding, and ethical dilemmas have become increasingly complex and continue to change rapidly. Highly recommended for insight into these vital issues.-Mary Chitty, Cambridge Healthtech, Waltham, Mass.
William Beatty
The U.S. records 183,000 new cases of breast cancer and 46,000 deaths from it each year, and 70 percent of the women who develop the disease have no family history of it. Davies and White tell the story of the race to find a gene responsible for breast cancer. They devote much of the text to three individuals: Mary-Claire King, Francis Collins, and Mark Skolnick, the race's eventual "winner." They examine the often competing roles of academic and commercial labs engaged in the search, clearly describe the new procedures that were discovered and the thinking that led to them, and discuss the ethical and psychological questions related to screening for breast cancer. Despite all the media hype about it, finding the breast cancer gene, while opening up intriguing avenues for further research, did little to improve detection and treatment.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471120254
  • Publisher: Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 1/28/1995
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 310
  • Product dimensions: 6.47 (w) x 9.55 (h) x 1.13 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments
1 King Takes Night: The Opening Shot in the Battle against Breast Cancer 1
2 The Mystery of One in Nine: What Causes Breast Cancer? 23
3 Genetic Detective: The Mary-Claire King Story 53
4 The Long Haul: The Early Years of Breast Cancer Genetics 75
5 The Collins Crusade: Blazing the Trail for Genetic Research 103
6 Zeroing in, Chilling out: Fierce Competitors Join the Race 129
7 The Screening Era Begins: Debating the Ethics of Genetics 159
8 Myriad Possibilities: Mark Skolnick Turns Genealogy into Genes 179
9 Breakthrough!: The Race Is Over, the Gene Is Found 207
10 The End of the Epidemic?: What the Gene Promises and What Remains to Be Done 239
Appendix: What Women Should Know about Current Treatments 263
Glossary 279
Notes 285
Index 303
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