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Volunteers for ground-breaking breast cancer study needed

Leading the way: Carika Weldon is spearheading genetic research into the causes of breast cancer among Caribbean women (File photograph)

A ground-breaking study to establish if some Caribbean women may be more predisposed to breast cancer is being conducted in Bermuda.

CariGenetics, a recently established genomic laboratory, is seeking 100 volunteers to take part in its Get In The Ring campaign — a Caribbean breast cancer whole genome pilot study, started with the aim of identifying markers in DNA that may trigger the onset of the disease.

The laboratory needs 50 volunteers of Caribbean descent who have had breast cancer diagnosed and 50 more volunteers — also of Caribbean descent — who have not received a diagnosis. Volunteers will be asked to complete a questionnaire and provide a sample of blood.

It is hoped that by examining the entire set of DNA instructions in a cell — the genome — new mutations unique to Caribbean women will be identified.

The pilot study is the first of its kind to analyse the genome in Caribbean women.

Carika Weldon, the research centre’s founder, said: “Breast cancer affects women worldwide, but Black women, particularly those of Caribbean ancestry, face a higher risk.

“This disparity is a pressing issue that needs immediate attention, and CariGenetics is determined to address it.

“When I first conceptualised CariGenetics, my vision was to bring high-quality research to Bermuda, to delve into the unique genetic make-up of our people and to use this knowledge to improve health outcomes. Today, we are taking a significant step towards realising that vision.

“Our mission is to understand the genetic differences in breast cancer in women of Caribbean ancestry. By conducting whole genome sequencing, we aim to uncover unique genetic markers that could lead to earlier detection, better prevention strategies and more effective treatments.”

Dr Weldon, a biochemist, said she was inspired to launch the campaign after the death of her grandmother six years ago.

She said: “My grandmother, Marie Gibbons, was dying quickly from cancer and I was asked by one of my cousins who knew I was a cancer researcher, why couldn’t I save her. I had no answer and I felt helpless.

“This is why I changed the focus on my research to be more impactful in 2018. I dedicate this study to her and all the other relatives we have lost to cancer.”

Dr Weldon said that once a sufficient number of volunteers had come forward it would take several weeks to complete the genetic sequencing of all blood samples. But an analysis of those samples could unearth any unusual discrepancies between the patient group and the control group.

Dr Weldon said that if any patterns could be identified, she hoped to expand the study.

She has also teamed up with a number of research centres in the Caribbean to share her findings.

The project is supported through funding from the Chronic Disease Innovation Programme, managed by the Bermuda Health Council.

Dr Weldon said: “This is a moment of pride for our island home as this will be done by Bermudians, in Bermuda, for Bermuda. Samples will be fully processed on island here in our CariGenetics Human Research Centre that is operating out of the Roche offices.

“We aim to collect vital information that could change the way we approach cancer treatment, prevention and care.

“Today, CariGenetics is stepping into the ring, donning the pink gloves, and joining the fight against breast cancer. But we cannot do this alone. We need your help, your support, and your participation.

“So, I invite you to join us in the ring. Together, we can make strides in the fight against breast cancer and lay the groundwork for a healthier future for all Bermudians and those of Caribbean ancestry.

For further information, click here.

How you can help

To participate in this study, you must meet the following criteria:

• Be a woman over the age of 18

• Have all four grandparents of Caribbean descent

• Have full insurance coverage (to ensure any follow-up screening is covered)

• Have had breast cancer diagnosed (for the patient group)

• Have not had breast cancer diagnosed or any first-degree relative with any cancer (for the control group)

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Published August 11, 2023 at 7:52 am (Updated August 11, 2023 at 7:42 am)

Volunteers for ground-breaking breast cancer study needed

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