University of Utah's Role in Angelina Jolie's Decision to Remove Her Ovaries

This morning in a New York Times op-ed piece, Angelina Jolie shared her experience undergoing a laparoscopic bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy due to her high genetic risk for ovarian cancer.

Mutations in two genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2, are the biggest cause of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer; through genetic testing, Jolie was found to have a mutation in the BRCA1 gene. These mutations are rare in the general population, however Jolie’s family history was a significant clue that she was at high risk for having a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation – her mother had both breast and ovarian cancer and her maternal grandmother had ovarian cancer, all diagnosed at younger-than-average ages. While having a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation confers a high lifetime risk for developing certain cancers, individuals with these mutations have many options to address their cancer risks.

The University of Utah has a unique history related to the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. In the early 1990’s, researchers at the University helped to identify the genes after studying numerous Utah families with high incidences of breast and ovarian cancer. This work would later become the Utah Genome Project (UGP).

A large-scale initiative to advance the development of better disease prevention, the UGP seeks diagnosis and treatment methods through discovery of new genetic signatures for human disease and response to drug therapies, using genome sequence analysis. Unlike genome initiatives that study unrelated groups of people, the UGP investigates genetic signatures of disease and drug response in large families. Because of this project, testing for mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes is now clinically available and patients can take action to address their cancer risks proactively.

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A Unique History