Hundreds of Utah residents know they descended from Mormon pioneer ancestors Lyman and Aurelia Hinman. What they may not know is that this ancestry may mean they inherited the possibility of a dangerous gene mutation. The Atlantic reported Friday that research into the Hinman family line could be a treasure trove of data for colon cancer research.
The hereditary mutation the Hinmans gave to at least two of their five children caused mushroom-shaped abnormalities, called polyps, to populate the inside of the colon. The polyps grew cancerous as the children grew older.
“Colon cancer had cut down whole branches of the family tree,” read the article.
Now, because of LDS genealogy, scientists are able to trace the gene down to the couple’s modern-day descendants, catching the cancer early.
“The early successes of the Utah Population Database with cancer demonstrated the power of genealogy,” the Atlantic reported. “Geneticists elsewhere have since used family trees to study other inherited diseases.”
The article commented on the benefits of genealogy for this genre of research.
“Detailed family trees make it easier to trace genes that cause disease," the article said. "After the Hinmans and other pioneers settled in the state, the Mormon Church kept records that over time became an unusually detailed and complete genealogy.”
The cancer research is being conducted primarily through the University of Utah. The Utah Population Database, along with family history records, is being used to track the disease.
“The Utah Population Database is growing, too. It now has medical records from Utah’s two major health care providers as well as state birth and death records,” according to the article. “More recently, it inked a deal with the Mormon Church to add 100 million new records from the church’s genealogy into the database.”
Besides just tracing the disease to the descendants, the research project involved testing the possible carriers. Hundreds of Mormon descendants from Utah, Idaho and Wyoming volunteered for an invasive colon screening to locate the modern-day carriers of the cancerous mutation. In the words of the article, “Utah became an accidental genetics laboratory.”
LDS genealogy linking to the pioneers revealed the common denominator for many Utah residents, allowing them to find the disease before it grew cancerous.
“When Lyman hitched his wagon for Utah a century and a half ago, he ended up setting a course for colon cancer research,” the article read.
Read the full article here.