Searching Family Trees for the Seeds of Cancer

Our genetic code is made up of 3.3 billion base pairs of DNA, and one single base pair change can be enough to put someone at risk for developing disease. Nicola Camp, Ph.D., a professor of genetic epidemiology at the University of Utah, uses one of the world’s most extensive resources of it’s kind, the Utah Population Database (UPDB), to hunt down the tiny changes that trigger inherited cancers, including multiple myeloma. The UPDB, which links medical records and vital statistics to carefully kept Utah genealogies representing over 7 million people, is proving to be a powerful resource for determining genetic causes for disease.

"It's actually an amazing resource," says Camp. "The two key factors that I'm using for my multiple myeloma research are, one, the genealogy. In other words, how people and their parents and their grandparents are all linked together in genealogical records. Then what we have on top of that is a mandated Utah Cancer Registry. If you can imagine looking in front of you at a genealogy, like an enormous family tree, and then throwing cancer diagnoses on there, suddenly you can just see these constellations of cancers."

In an interview with The Scope Radio, Camp explains the Utah Population Database, how it has helped her hone in on DNA regions that may predispose people to developing mutliple myeloma, and how her work might one day help patients worldwide.

Listen to an interview with Nicola Camp using the player below.

Using Utah Genealogies to Find Genetic Causes of Cancer