World-renowned geneticist Mary-Claire King delivers address at HudsonAlpha

King advocates BRCA gene testing for women 30 years old and older, challenges Huntsville to lead the way

Huntsville, Ala. —World-renowned geneticist Mary-Claire King, Ph.D., known for discovering the BRCA1 gene and its link to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, told nearly 1,000 people in Huntsville today that she wants to see every young woman offered genomic testing as part of regular healthcare.

King also challenged the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology and Huntsville to lead the effort in testing young women, regardless of family history, for the breast cancer gene mutations.

“I would like for them to begin here in Huntsville the demonstration project to have physicians here in Huntsville be willing to recommend sequencing of BRCA1 and BRCA2 for all of their young women at the age of 30, regardless of personal history, regardless of family history,” King said. “In general, HudsonAlpha can’t sequence every 30-year-old and older women in America, but they can probably do that in Huntsville.”

King was guest speaker at the HudsonAlpha Tie the Ribbons event, which seeks to bring awareness to breast and ovarian cancer and raises funds to support cancer genomics research at HudsonAlpha.

King said she thinks the scientific community has under-assessed the inherited component and therefore is a proponent of more genetic testing. “Mutations in BRCA1 or in any of its sister genes, BRCA2 or any of the other genes, are inherited from mothers 50 percent of the time and from fathers 50 percent of the time,” King explained. “If a mutation is inherited from a young woman’s father it’s very likely that he is going to be cancer free, that he won’t have breast cancer. It happens, but it’s very, very rare.

“If his family happens to be small, he didn’t have sisters or they were lucky and didn’t inherit the mutation from the grandparents, then how is this young woman going to know? She doesn’t have a severe family history of breast or ovarian cancer. How is she going to suspect that she carries the mutation?”

This is the basis, King said, of her current public campaign encouraging all women around age 30 and older to be genetically tested for one of these genes that have been tied to hereditary breast or ovarian cancer.

“All young women in America, regardless of their personal history and regardless of their family history should be offered testing for BRCA1 and BRCA2 when they’re about 30 just as part of routine medical care,” said King.

The vast majority of women tested will not have mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2, King said, but for the women who do, they will be able to make a plan that has been shown to greatly reduce the risks of having ovarian and breast cancer.

“A woman should be empowered with this information,” said King. “I don’t think we need to be afraid of knowledge. Our genes are there and they are what they are whether we know about them or not, and we should know.”

King hopes that the genomic sequencing process will be separated from the interpretation, with sequencing conducted by the many companies and organizations with sequencing capabilities and the analysis of data carried out by digital analysis powerhouses like HudsonAlpha.

Tie the Ribbons and the HudsonAlpha Breakthrough Breast/Ovarian Cancer Fund raised more than $300,000 and will receive a $250,000 match from the Lonnie McMillian Inspiring Excellence endowment fund for recruiting, leaders announced Monday.

This year’s event, coupled with the Breakthrough Breast/Ovarian Cancer fund, sought to raise funds specifically for the hiring of a new cancer genomics faculty investigator at HudsonAlpha. The institute is seeking an investigator to join its current team of scientists to pursue a greater understanding of genes that are related to breast and ovarian cancers, in the hopes of discovering targeted diagnostics and treatments. This new investigator will join a team of some of the most influential genomic scientists in the world.

“We are going to use the funds from this fundraiser event to hire a new faculty investigator at HudsonAlpha who will be dedicated to breast and ovarian cancer research,” said HudsonAlpha President and Director Richard Myers, Ph.D. “We do a fair amount of that now; we need to do a whole lot more.”

The success of Tie the Ribbons and the Breakthrough Breast/Ovarian Cancer fund is due largely to the generosity of HudsonAlpha supporters and the record attendance of more than 950 individuals at Tie the Ribbons.

“Mary-Claire King’s discovery of genetic linkage between breast and ovarian cancer was a breakthrough for understanding many forms of common disease in addition to cancer,” said Myers. “Not only did Mary-Claire show how inherited mutations contributed to the overall prevalence of breast cancer, the identification of the BRCA1 gene led to a much deeper understanding of how cancer develops and new strategies for cancer treatment.

“Mary-Claire has also been a tireless advocate for the role of genetics in understanding biology and in addressing important social issues. We are honored to have her here and to recognize her achievements.”

During the event, Myers presented King with the 2014 HudsonAlpha Life Sciences Prize for career achievement.

About HudsonAlpha: HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology is a nonprofit institute dedicated to innovating in the field of genomic technology and sciences across a spectrum of biological challenges. Founded in 2008, its mission is four-fold: sparking scientific discoveries that can impact human health and well-being; bringing genomic medicine into clinical care; fostering life sciences entrepreneurship and business growth; and encouraging the creation of a genomics-literate workforce and society. The HudsonAlpha biotechnology campus consists of 152 acres nestled within Cummings Research Park, the nation’s second largest research park. Designed to be a hothouse of biotech economic development, HudsonAlpha’s state-of-the-art facilities co-locate nonprofit scientific researchers with entrepreneurs and educators. The relationships formed on the HudsonAlpha campus encourage collaborations that produce advances in medicine and agriculture. Under the leadership of Dr. Richard M. Myers, a key collaborator on the Human Genome Project, HudsonAlpha has become a national and international leader in genetics and genomics research and biotech education, and includes 30 diverse biotech companies on campus. To learn more about HudsonAlpha, visit:


Click to donate to the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Funding Campaign!

Media Contact:
Margetta Thomas