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Ephrat Levy-Lahad, MD
Professor of Internal Medicine and Medical Genetics
Director, Medical Genetics Institute
Shaare Zedek Medical Center
Goal: To increase genetic screening in high-risk populations and advance the understanding of inherited genetic risk factors in diverse populations.
Impact: Dr. Levy-Lahad is working to determine the frequency of BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations among non-Ashkenazi Jewish people. These studies may lead to a new paradigm in population screening for inherited predisposition to breast cancer and advance genetic precision medicine for cancer prevention. In a separate but related study, she is working with BCRF collaborators Drs. Moien Kanaan and Mary-Claire King on the Middle East Breast Cancer Study, aimed at increasing access to genetic testing in breast cancer patients of Arab descent to understand the frequency and causes of inherited risk.
What’s next: Both projects continue to conduct genomic screening and explore genetic mutations responsible for breast cancer in non-Ashkenazi Jewish women who represent diverse ancestries and could open the door for using genetic testing for public health cancer prevention.
Dr. Levy-Lahad’s work is aimed at improving genetic screening in high-risk population so that those who carry genetic mutations in cancer susceptibility genes can be identified as early as possible, when prevention interventions are most effective. She is studying women of Arab descent (in collaboration with Drs. Kanaan and King) and non-Ashkenazi Jewish women—to identify common and new genetic bases of inherited breast cancer.
Full Research Summary
Research area: Advancing the understanding of the genetic mutations that predispose diverse groups of women to breast cancer.
Impact: Dr. Levy-Lahad is working on two related projects, the Israel Breast Cancer Study (IBCS) and the Middle East Breast Cancer Study (MEBCS) with BCRF colleagues Drs. Mary-Claire King and Moien Kanaan. As part of IBCS, she has evaluated the frequency that BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations occur in Ashkenazi Jewish people, a group far more likely to carry these mutations than the general population. Her work on MEBCS entails looking for new breast cancer genes in the Arab population and also providing genetics services to the Palestinian population. Collectively, these studies could identify more women and families who are at high risk of breast cancer, allowing them to take advantage of preventive and early detection strategies.
Current investigation: Dr. Levy-Lahad is investigating the prevalence of BRCA1 and BCRA2 mutations in non-Ashkenazi Jews—who represent diverse ancestries, not unlike the population of the USA or Europe. With Drs. King and Kanaan, she has been conducting genetic testing of more than 1,300 breast cancer patients of Arab ancestry to determine the basis of inherited predisposition to breast cancer in this population. It is the largest cohort of Arab women in the world to undergo such testing. Collectively these studies will provide insight into the general genomic landscape of breast cancer and whether universal genetic screening is beneficial.
What they’ve learned so far: Through IBCS, Dr. Levy-Lahad has shown that population screening for hereditary risk of breast and ovarian cancer is possible in a genetically heterogeneous population. Using new genomic technologies, she and her team have demonstrated that testing large numbers of women is possible, and by analyzing newly identified families with breast cancer in multiple relatives, they are beginning to identify new genetic causes of breast cancer. In the MEBCS, Dr. Levy-Lahad and her collaborators have characterized the distinctive profile of hereditary breast cancer risk among Arab women. In addition, the MEBCS team has also created training programs in cancer genetics for Palestinian nurses and social workers to increase awareness and acceptance of genetic counseling, which is now routine for breast cancer patients at most Palestinian hospitals.
What’s next: Dr. Levy-Lahad will continue her efforts on the Israel Breast Cancer Study to determine the frequency of BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations in non-Ashkenazi Jewish. She and her MEBCS colleagues will identify new cancer-causing mutations in women of Arab ancestry as well as perform genomic analysis of severely affected Palestinian families with no mutations in any known breast cancer gene.
Ephrat Levy-Lahad, MD, is Professor of Internal Medicine and Medical Genetics at Hebrew University and Director of the Medical Genetics Institute at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. She is one of the world's foremost authorities on inherited breast cancer among Jewish women. Dr. Levy-Lahad received her medical degree from the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem, Israel. She completed a residency in Internal Medicine at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, and a three-year fellowship in Medical Genetics at the University of Washington in Seattle. Since 1996, she has been Director of the Medical Genetics Institute and senior physician in the Department of Medicine at Shaare Zedek Medical Center. Dr. Levy-Lahad holds a faculty appointment as Associate Professor in Medicine and Genetics at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem.
Professor Levy-Lahad's clinical laboratory includes cancer genetics diagnostics and a large pre-implantation diagnosis service. Her research laboratory focuses on genetics of breast cancer, in particular the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, and on genetic and environmental factors that affect the risk associated with these mutations. She studies application of genetic testing to population screening and large-scale prevention efforts. Her laboratory is also involved in elucidating the genetic basis of rare diseases, including recent discoveries of novel genes for a rare congenital neurological disease in Ashkenazi Jews, and for defects in ovarian development.
Professor Levy-Lahad is active in bioethical aspects of genetic research, and is currently co-Chair of the Israel National Bioethics Council. She is a member of Israel's National Council for Women's Health and the National Council for Gynecology, Perinatal Medicine and Genetics. Internationally, she was a member of UNESCO's IBC (International Bioethics Committee) (2006-2009).