'Ashkenazi mutations' and the BRCA genes: genetics, disease and Jewish identity.
Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London).
This thesis explores the increased risk of genetic breast cancer for Ashkenazi Jews who are at significantly increased risk of carrying three specific mutations in the high risk breast cancer genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2. The Ashkenazi Jewish population has the highest known risk of genetic breast cancer and are the most well researched in relation to genetic disease. They are believed to have a particularly supportive and unique relationship with genetics, despite also having a history of discrimination that includes claims of biological inferiority. The use of racial or ethnic groups in genetic research is highly contentious and the implications for those populations being studied are usually assumed to be negative. There is also significant discussion about the potential of new genetic knowledge to transform individual and collective identity and alter how individuals conceive of themselves and the groups to which they belong. This thesis contributes to both of these areas of debate by exploring the implications for individuals of knowing that they are at increased risk of genetic breast cancer because they are of Ashkenazi Jewish origin. It specifically addresses whether being at increased risk has an impact on how Ashkenazi Jewish women feel about their own Jewish identity, whether they have concerns about current genetic research related to them, and if they are particularly supportive as if often claimed. Evidence is provided principally from qualitative interview material with Ashkenazi women at increased risk of genetic breast cancer as well as non high risk individuals. The qualitative data is supplemented by a quantitative survey. Ethnic identity can be an important mediating factor for the ways in which genetic knowledge is interpreted and genetic medicine can become intertwined with culturally specific issues. Ashkenazi Jews conceive of themselves, their history and their future in ways that are compatible with new genetic knowledge. While it is important not to assume there are necessarily damaging or transformative consequences for those populations that are the subjects of genetic research, there were implications for Ashkenazi women and their disease was interwoven with their identity in complex ways.
|Title:||'Ashkenazi mutations' and the BRCA genes: genetics, disease and Jewish identity|
|UCL classification:||UCL > School of Arts and Social Sciences > Faculty of Social and Historical Sciences > Anthropology|
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