Malta-Sicily project developing app to estimate cancer risk

Some three years ago, a small group of health experts from Malta’s national screening services and academics from the University, Mater Dei Hospital and the Malta Council for Science and Technology set about seeking EU funding for a project on breast cancer risk.

They were joined by three others from Sicily. The ImagenX project was born, funded by almost €2.5 million from the Italy-Malta programme of European Structural Funds.

Led by the Screening Unit of Malta’s Department for Health, the project partners have started work on the lifestyle, environmental and genetic profiling from women of all ages from the Maltese and Sicilian communities.

They hope to identify the predisposing genetic mutations in the two communities and discover what they have in common. They will also scrutinise lifestyles and environmental factors and IT systems to apply some clever mathematical logic to risk evaluation.

The goal is to produce a hand-held app for mobile phones. Users in Malta and Sicily will be the first to try the app to get an idea of the risk they face of developing breast or other cancers, and decide what change they need to introduce in their lifestyle to avoid the risk.

Perhaps doing this at a young age may prove as effective and less drastic than a bilateral mastectomy, especially in those with a family history but without the high-risk genes. Incidentally, a recent publication pointed out that anti-oestrogen may be a very effective way of stalling the development of breast cancer.

IT systems and a personalised profile are surely the way forward to disease surveillance and prevention. Empowerment and control are the order of the day.

Among the project partners, the Ministry of Health is represented by the Screening Unit, led by Joseph Psaila and Nadine Delicata, with the collaboration of Christian Scerri, Clinical and Molecular Genetics Clinic, Mater Dei Hospital, who, together with Godfrey Grech, shares the role of principal investigator in the Genetics Research Work Package and is assisted by John Paul Cauchi. The MCST team is led by Joseph Sammut and assisted by Monica Farrugia.

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