Looking for genetic counseling? This Colombian researcher may help you
Due to the genetic nature of diseases like cancer, it is important to get special advice to prevent some of the most serious cases.
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Sara Gómez-Trillos, a Colombian health researcher based in the United States, represents the hope for many women, especially Latinas, to access genetic counseling that can shed light on the origin and characteristics of their disease.
Gómez-Trillos specializes in research and project coordination at the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center in Washington D.C., where she works with a team led by Dr. Alejandra Hurtado de Mendoza, a bilingual social psychologist with interdisciplinary training in Anthropology and Communication, whose research addresses translational genomics in underserved populations.
The Colombian origin researcher and Dr. Hurtado are currently working on a culturally-adapted telephone genetic counseling protocol (TCG), as well as a Spanish-language educational brochure for Latina breast cancer survivors.
Thanks to work by the Colombian researcher, awareness and advice in the Spanish-speaking community has improved, increasing the number of genetic tests assigned for women in the population group, who have a higher risk of suffering from Breast Cancer Syndrome and Hereditary Ovary (HBOC).
It is important to highlight that both BRCA1 (breast cancer gene 1) and BRCA2 (breast cancer gene 2) are genes that facilitate the elimination of tumors, so if a person inherits a damaged copy of these, they may have a greater chance of getting different types of cancer, which includes breast and ovarian cancer.
You can also read: Meet the Nigerian oncologist fighting breast cancer
Due to the genetic nature of cancer, it is vital that patients have access to professional counseling of their genetic material, as this can prevent a person from passing on an inherited disorder.
“Our cultural adaptation of TGC can increase the reach and quality of care for Latinas at increased risk for HBOC, thus promoting health equity,” Gómez-Trillos highlighted in an interview with Forbes. She also pointed out that both the protocol and the TCG brochure are the first to be developed in Spanish for a Latino audience, allowing the use of cultural values and guaranteeing access to people with low levels of schooling.
Thanks to the implementation of this strategy, factors such as communication, quality and understanding the risks arising from the genetic information of each person, have begun to show signs of improvement.
Latin America’s Case
According to the Colombian researcher, the availability of genetic services to study these types of hereditary cancer is very different on each Latin American country.
Referring specifically to her country, Colombia, Gómez-Trillos points out that inequity is one of the most serious problems faced by this type of study, a factor that highlights how few people know about these services and who can have access to them, especially families in rural areas where there are not health professionals who offer this type of care. Also, the effects of the pandemic have caused telephone genetic counseling to be used now as “standard clinical care.”
The researcher, who emphasizes on the cultural values of each patient as well as equity to offer suitable care, highlights that, in addition to the scarce resources available, the lack of inclusion of scientists from the "Global South" in decision-making may affect the collection of objective and personalized information that can offer solutions to patients.
Gómez-Trillos was born and raised in Medellin, Colombia. At 18, she moved to the United States to further her studies at the University of Virginia, where she conducted research on development, social relationships, and their impact on physical health.