Medical Student Brings DNA-Testing to Women in TT

| May 5, 2017

Parkinson, a medical student from the prestigious Yale School of Medicine, was recently featured in American business magazine Fast Company, which delved into her journey to better understand the roots of the high prevalence of breast cancer in Trinidad and Tobago. In her interview with the magazine, she indicated that as a child she’d observed women around her mysteriously getting sick in their thirties and forties. She’d later learned that they had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

“These are women with young children dying in their prime, but it’s common in Trinidad,” she told Fast Company. “Infectious disease is well-studied, but cancer was, and still is, very taboo.”

Parkinson was awarded a research fellowship with small funding to study the breast cancer problem in Trinidad. After going door to door, she was able to raise additional funds from her parents and some small local businesses. Knowing that more research would be needed to convince the government to routinely pay for screening, she reached out to Color Genomics, a U.S. company that leverages DNA sequencing to answer a wide variety of questions about disease, to inquire about its affordable tests. While in years past it would cost US$100 million to sequence a human genome, the company has been able to offer one of the cheapest offerings with a test to screen for a set of genes associated with hereditary cancers for just US$249.

These type of screening tools are not available in Trinidad and Tobago.

After visiting Trinidad, the company awarded Parkinson its first research grant for US$250,000 and volunteered its own genetic counsellors to train local physicians.

According to Fast Company, one of the heads of partnerships, Alicia Zhou, said that Parkinson was, “one medical student taking on the burden of a country.”

Zhou’s statements are not too far off, given that current infrastructure for breast cancer treatment and prevention doesn’t fully include access to genetic counselors; breast MRIs; reimbursement for preemptive mastectomies; funding for public health campaigns; education for primary care doctors; and the like.

Breast cancer isn’t the only disease that Parkinson is looking at; she also indicated to Fast Company that she’s also hoping to fund studies into other forms of cancer, including prostate cancer.

The video below provides an overview of Parkinson’s research and how her study has brough DNA testing to women In Trinidad and Tobago.


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