The Rise of Color Genomics and Cancer Risk Detection

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With the massive impact that cancer has had on the human population, it is no surprise that one of the primary focuses on science today is finding ways to combat cancer on multiple levels, including discovering ways to help reduce the risk of developing cancer. There is no shortage of data being compiled on almost every facet of cancer. One company, Color Genomics, has made a huge splash in the area of risk predictability in cancer, using an innovative approach of providing genetic testing for people who may be at high risk for developing cancer. The company takes a high-tech approach to engaging the complex nature of a number of different forms of cancer.

Color Genomics was founded in 2013 by Taylor Sittler, Othman Laraki, Elad Gil and Nish Bhat. The company has raised more than $98 million over three rounds. The company focuses on providing services that help people manage their health in a proactive manner. Combining the best engineering, product design, machine learning, and distributed systems concepts, the company helps its customers identify genetic predispositions to the development of cancer. This high tech approach is facilitated through a number of third party service providers, including Google, MIT, UC Berkley, Twitter, UCSF and Stanford.

While the idea of genetic testing for cancer may be foreign, and some, especially men, may be somewhat opposed to it, many experts are suggesting that people be tested. In fact, co-founder and President of Color, Othman Laraki, has had himself tested for the BRCA gene pair, which have been known to be directly correlated with the development of breast cancer.

Laraki says that the BRCA gene can also increase the risk of prostate cancer for men, as well as pancreatic cancer and breast cancer. What studies have revealed is that the postulation that different types of cancers are completely distinct in their development may not be completely accurate. In fact, there is increasing empirical data that suggest that different types of cancers may be linked in multitudinous ways yet unknown.

The fact that some of the deadliest forms are cancer may have common elements that link them is a significant discovery — making it immensely important for technology like that used by Color Genomics to be made available to the public. It was similar testing that led Angelina Jolie to take preemptive action to engage her elevated risks to develop breast cancer.

At the core, Color genomics uses innovative technology to test 30 specific genes, including BRCA1 and BRCA2, in both, women and men. These tests will help men and women to better understand their risks for the most common cancers that are considered hereditary.

If you are wondering why you should get tested, there are a number of very compelling reasons. According to data provided by Color between 10-15 percent of most cancers can be categorized as inherited genetic mutations. Cancers that are considered hereditary are the result of an inherited genetic mutation that is passed down from progenitor to the progeny. This is why it is not uncommon to witness cancer attack a family across multiple generations, especially when it involved multiple family members across generations that are attacked by the same type of cancer. While there is a growing school of thought that suggest that while genetics may play a role in the facilitation of cancer, the generational connection may be more environmental that genetic, Color Genomics feels very strongly about the benefit of the services that they are currently offering the public.

Basically, the opposing school of thought suggests that environment influences such as poor nutritional intake, exposure to carcinogens and exposure to chronic stress may be at the core of all disease. Because family members will likely share the same diet and geographical environment, it is suggested that the breakdown of the body due to these conditions could lead to the mutations.

Scientists that support the genetic theory are not necessary refuting the idea of environmental influence, but they suggest that genetic vulnerability is still an issue, and having the capacity to test for certain mutated genes can go a long way in allowing a person to take preemptive action before they develop cancer.

Another indicator that genetic influence plays a substantial role in some cancers is the occurrence of what is known as familial cancer, which is the occurrence of a particular form of cancer in one family at a rate that is higher that what should be expected by chance. In other words, if a certain type of cancer is occurring in a family at a rate that is higher than the national average for that form of cancer, there could be a genetic influence at the core.

What has to be understood is that while there have not yet been any mutations linked to familial cancers, there still may be a hereditary component that has not been identified yet.

While sporadic cancer, cancer that develop as a result of what is known as spontaneous mutations, is the most common form of cancer, and these types of cancers cannot be explained by a single causality, it is the other 15-20 percent of cancers that this type of genetic testing is focused on.

Another concern that has arisen when it comes to the services that are offered by Color is that the service was too expensive, placing it out of reach for a significant portion of the population. However, the company is planning on developing services that will be significantly less expensive than their current services. The manner in which the services will differ is not yet clear.

The initial testing format offered by Color tested for 19 genes. They have since expanded their testing parameters to include a total of 30 genes that can be identified. Once a person takes the test, and the results are in, they are notified of the results via email. Once they have these results, they will be able to discuss the implications with an oncologist or other type of cancer specialist. The work being performed by Color has great promise, and the company’s growth is equally promising.


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