When I was a child, I was aware that my mother had been working in the Faculty of Medicine of The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), but had no idea she was actually a leading expert in tumor research.
My mother was a pioneer scientist in cancer pathology. She led her team in a study on the gene mapping of Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma, or NPC, in the 1960s.The incidence rate of NPC in Guangdong province is much higher than in other regions. Her research proved that NPC is closely linked with eating excessive slated fish.
Her research also showed blood test can detect the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) that causes NPC. The test only costs less than HK$100, and enables doctors to screen patients at early stage.
At that time, she was devoting herself to DNA sequencing and relevant technologies. She hoped that DNA test can predict gene mutation that causes various diseases. In this way, patients would receive alert to change their bad habits early.
More than a decade after she passed away, researchers at CUHK demonstrated that plasma EBV DNA analysis is useful for screening early asymptomatic NPC. Their study was published in The New England Journal of Medicine, the world’s leading medical journal.
It would help screen early cancer and let them receive treatment at much earlier stage. That would highly extend the survival period and reduce the rate of other diseases caused by cancer treatment.
If a screen test would predict future cancer, authorities should consider a citywide screening. That would considerably reduce the medical and healthcare costs for treating cancer. Patients as well as their families can both benefit greatly from this.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 29
Translation by Julie Zhu
[Chinese version 中文版]
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