Little known in the 1970s about the causes of cancer, Mary-Claire King
Interviewee: Mary-Claire King. Mary-Claire King speaks about how much was yet to be understood about the genetic mechanisms of cancer when she began her hunt for genes associated with breast cancer. (DNAi Location: Applications > Genes and medicine > Gene hunting > Mary-Claire King > What was known)
When I began working on the problem of breast cancer in families we knew very little about the causes of cancer. There were elegant studies of the morphology of cancer cells and how they differed from normal cells, but this was before the discovery of oncogenes, it was before the discovery of tumor suppressor genes, of which of course BRCA1 and BRCA2 turned out to be examples. It was before the discovery of the critical role of DNA repair and mutator genes. So the mechanism of how a normal cell becomes a cancer cell and how that happens in breast epithelium or ovarian epithelium or in the lung or in the colon, was not well understood, although the phenomenon was beautifully described. For me, since I was looking at this from a genetic point of view, it was, the level of ignorance was okay because what I was asking was, can I follow chromosomes, and the fact that the mechanisms of cancer were not understood wasn't critical to my being able to proceed. What I needed was a greater understanding of DNA itself.
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This section identifies that a cancer gene alters the normal functioning of a protein, and there are three major categories of cancer genes.
All cancers are genetic, in that cancers are caused by genetic mutations in genes that lead to malignancy.
Professor Bert Vogelstein, explains that cancer is in essence a genetic disease. It is caused by mutations of genes and there are three types of genes, that contribute to cancer.
David Botstein discusses how identifying the molecular mechanisms of cancer will lead to the development of improved therapies.
Mary-Claire King reflects on how knowledge gained from the identification of BRCA1 and BRCA2 could lead to improved cancer treatments.
In Familial Adenomatous Polyposis, a complex cascade of events leads from an initial mutation in a “gatekeeper” gene, eventually to a malignant tumor.
Matt Ridley talks about chromosome 13, BRCA2 gene for breast cancer susceptibility.
Mary-Claire King talks about her first steps toward finding the gene responsible for certain kinds of inherited breast cancer.
Mary-Claire King talks about the value of using the centuries-old tool of family pedigrees to gain insight into patterns of inheritance of genetic disorders.
Familial colon cancer was long thought to be inherited; however a complete understanding of its causes awaited the discovery that specific genetic mutations confer a large increase in susceptibility to these types of cancers.