What is Jolie Gene test? New breakthrough could drastically change cancer treatment

Preventive surgery for women may be a thing of the past if doctors can use the new test to determine those at greatest risk of breast and ovarian cancer


                            What is Jolie Gene test? New breakthrough could drastically change cancer treatment
Angelina Jolie attends Marvel Studios' "Eternals" premiere on October 18, 2021 in Los Angeles, California (Rich Fury/Getty Images)

American scientists may have found a new way to revolutionize cancer treatment for women, and it's all thanks to Angelina Jolie. Scientists have developed a new "Jolie gene" test to determine the women at greatest risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer, which would mean simple testing rather than preventive surgeries for thousands of women across the globe. 

The test has been named after the award-winning actress, who first brought the mutated BRCA1 gene that causes cancer to the awareness of the world in 2013. As we've covered before, cancer can be particularly deadly not just to women's health, but also to their finances because of the way insurance covers are designed. Over the years, numerous stars have come forward to detail their challenges with cancer, like Miranda McKeon who underwent a mastectomy in November 2021. 

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The research into the 'Jolie gene' was led by Dr. Beth Karlan, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles who incidentally also cared for Jolie's mother Marcheline Bertrand. "Having cared for Angelina Jolie's mother, I just wanted Angelina to be around to see her children grow up," she said about the study. Of course, the study is far from done, and it could still be years before women can get the Jolie gene test, but the latest breakthrough does offer significant hope.

What is the Jolie gene test?

Mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes impair the body's ability to repair damage to DNA, which greatly increases the risk of cancer. Because of the mutations, chances for women to get ovarian cancer jump from 2% to as much as 60%, and from 12.5% to as much as 90% for breast cancer. To date, the only way to avoid getting these cancers was preventive surgery like Jolie did nearly a decade ago.

But, with the Jolie gene test, doctors could determine if the mutations are present in the cells, thereby indicating if the individual is highly likely to develop cancer or not. The first step is to understand how the mutation develops, which is what Karlan and her team have done. They grew mini fallopian tubes using cells from the blood of women who have had cancer, and then observed the development of cancer in the lab.

The next step is to grow fallopian tubes in the lab, from women who have the mutated genes but have not yet developed cancer. Doing so will allow scientists to understand what exactly causes the mutation to lead to cancer. Understanding that will allow scientists to develop drugs or interventions that precisely target the faulty genes, possibly eliminating them from causing cancers in the first place.

"That could help women like Angelina Jolie make very important decisions, or lead to drugs which can block proteins or cellular processes which lead to ovarian cancer,"  noted Dr. Clive Svendsen, from the US-based Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute, the co-lead of the study. In the future, a simple test could determine if a woman has a faulty BRCA1 gene, and is likely to develop cancer, and then be given a drug to simply prevent it from occurring. Doing so would eliminate millions of preventive surgeries, and help keep women in the workforce without fears about their health. 

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