Sunday, April 28, 2024

A Fatal Inheritance

A Fatal Inheritance by Lawrence Ingrassia
5/14/24; 320 pages
Henry Holt & Company

A Fatal Inheritance: How a Family Misfortune Revealed a Deadly Medical Mystery by Lawrence Ingrassia is a very highly recommended deeply personal memoir of a family's medical tragedies merged with a medical thriller of cancer research as scientists work to discover answers.

Lawrence Ingrassia's family story is one where death from cancer is prevalent. In his family Ingrassia lost his mother, two sisters, brother, and nephew to different kinds of cancer at different points in their lives. In the 1960s his family became one of several that intrigued Dr. Frederick Pei Li and Dr. Joseph Fraumeni Jr. in their research into why some families experienced so many deaths by cancer. They began collecting records and analyzing data to understand cancer clusters in some families.

They published their results in a paper which showed that there was likely a genetic component involved and this discovery was named the Li–Fraumani Syndrome. Their paper was first published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, and wasn't widely known. Later genetic researchers were intrigued by the syndrome and with help from Li and Fraumani and the samples they collected from families they were able to discover a mutation in the p53 gene. This inherited mutation is responsible for the higher risk of cancer. Its discovery was groundbreaking in cancer research and offers hope for potential future research.

Ingassia does an excellent job sharing his family's and others deeply personal and emotional stories while also covering how the cancer research of Li and Fraumeni’s and others evolved. The merging of the personal tragedies with the ground breaking discoveries work well together and help create a tension and anticipation for some hopeful discovery for a future cure. The question of genetic research in regards to ethical considerations and personal privacy is also considered. Thanks to Henry Holt & Company for providing me with an advance reader's copy via NetGalley. My review is voluntary and expresses my honest opinion.

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