Making history: Discovering the genetic link to breast and ovarian cancer

Patricia Tonin, Steven Narod
Research

Twenty years ago, Dr. Patricia Tonin took part in an international effort to identify the two genes in women who are at high risk of developing hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.

20 years ago, a major breakthrough rocked the world of cancer research. With funding from the Cancer Research Society, Dr. Steven Narod and Dr. Patricia Tonin undertook an international research collaboration into the drivers behind breast and ovarian cancer. 

The result, the discovery of the BRCA1 — named for BReast CAncer — gene, a genetic marker that could be used to identify women at high risk of developing hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. 

This was the beginning of a journey for both Dr. Tonin and Dr. Narod, alongside the Cancer Research Society. 

Dr. Tonin has since continued her exploration of the genes responsible for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. Her research has been funded by a young scholar fellowship awarded by the Cancer Research Society with the Medical Research Council of Canada, as well as 5 additional grants from the Cancer Research Society between 2000 and 2011. Later, she and Dr. Narod came together to identify a second gene signifying risk of breast and ovarian cancer — the BRCA2 gene.  

The impact of Dr. Tonin and Dr. Narod’s work is far reaching. Today, the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are well known and, through genetic testing, are used to identify people who are at high risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer, leading to the earlier detection or even prevention of cancer. 

 Thanks to Dr. Patricia Tonin and Dr. Steven Narod’s research,       the outcomes have been changed for thousands of people . As new breakthroughs are unlocked and treatments developed, their work could help tens-of-thousands more. 

Dr. Steven Narod and Dr. Patricia Tonin are continuing their vital work, and are bringing us another step closer to outsmarting cancer.

Learn more about our impact

Related stories

Why Christine Biggar Reads for the Cure

Christine Biggar, Toronto
Read for the cureResearch

“In this day and age especially, cancer affects everyone. Investment in research is critical.” Between 2005 and 2006 Christine Biggar’s Toronto-based book club was hit hard by cancer. “Two members were undergoing treatment and two other members were dealing with family members affected by cancer. I also lost both of my parents to cancer at … Read more

Outsmarting cancer, their way

The Passchier sisters,
Research

They helped outsmart cancer one step at a time “There’s still so much to learn about cancer, and cures and what we can do for people. Our mom was able to stay with us 11 more years because of cancer research.” Catelyn, Michelle, April and Cassandra Passchier know better than most that there will never … Read more