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Do you believe in MaGiC?

What is MaGiC?

Cancer Research Malaysia (CRMY) has collaborated with geneticists, gynaecologists, and oncologists throughout the nation to complete a study called MaGiC, which stands for “Mainstreaming Genetic Counselling for Genetic Testing of BRCA1 and BRCA2 in Ovarian Cancer Patients in Malaysia”.

The MaGiC was implemented in 2017 to determine the feasibility and impact of introducing mainstreaming – namely, the implementation of genetic or genomic testing in other specialties such as oncology, to aid diagnosis and/or treatment – to the Malaysian population. The goal being for genetic counselling to be widely available to ensure that people with inherited ‘faulty’ genes know their risks and can take measures to improve their survival rate. 

So, why is MaGiC important?

Ovarian cancer is often called the ‘Silent Killer’ as there are no noticeable symptoms in the early stages, and there is no blood test or screening method for early detection of the disease. 

1 in 9 Malaysian ovarian cancer patients inherited alterations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. Women who inherit this gene alteration have a higher risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. While the men who inherit altered BRCA1 gene have a higher risk of developing breast cancer, and those who inherit altered BRCA2 gene have a higher risk of developing breast, prostate, and pancreatic cancer.

As there is a lack of genetic counsellors, clinical geneticists, and awareness among clinicians, genetic testing in most parts of Asia is inadequate. By mainstreaming genetic counselling, it will improve access to BRCA genetic testing in Malaysia, thereby allowing us to identify individuals with higher risk of cancer as well as improve patient access to better treatment and risk management options.

Think of it this way. 

Say you’re living abroad in Sweden for a year, but one day you have an intense craving for Nasi Lemak (which Malaysian doesn’t love Nasi Lemak?). But since you’re in Sweden, it would be almost impossible (we’re assuming here) to get good quality ingredients to make it, let alone authentic Nasi Lemak, to satisfy that want. If you aren’t able to access something you really want, how would that make you feel? Now think about it when it comes to genetic counseling, something that could save your life, where accessibility is so important. 

Dr Faiz’s drawing

How are we spreading the MaGiC?

Specialists, such as gynaecologists and oncologists, who are the frontliners treating ovarian cancer patients, will be provided with training to introduce genetic testing to their patients. This will overcome logistical issues of referring patients to a clinical service many miles away or having to wait several months for an appointment with a genetics specialist.

Professor Datin Paduka Dr. Teo Soo Hwang, Chief Scientific Officer of Cancer Research Malaysia added,

“Our earlier research had identified how common this genetic alteration is. Therefore, we have developed a more accessible alternative to conduct the genetic test. We are overjoyed to have mainstreamed our services which enable greater access to genetics services nationwide. What we do is only possible because of the support from the public through partnerships, fundraisers, and donations – that is the key to the sustainability of this programme.”

Ms Tiara Hassan, CRM’s Genetic Counsellor (Left), Ms Yoon Sook-Yee, Principal Investigator(Right)

Can MaGiC “save” the future? (& What this means for the future)

By spearheading this study, CRMY has made Malaysia the first country in Asia to mainstream genetic counselling for ovarian cancer nationwide. Genetic counseling service was previously only available at 4 clinics, now it is available in 23 hospitals across the country. 

The impact has been positive in that mainstreaming is proven to be a feasible option to address the increasing need for genetic services in lower-resource settings like Malaysia and other Asian countries, thus paving the way to improve patient access to better treatment and risk management options. 

Prof. Dr. Woo Yin Ling

Prof. Dr. Woo Yin Ling, Consultant Gynae-oncologist at University Malaya and Lead Clinician in the MaGiC study said, 

“This study has shown that mainstreaming among the gynaecologists and oncologists is feasible, and it has built that resource of trained clinicians nationwide to improve genetic counselling and testing access” 

Dato Dr. Rushdan, a gynaecologist at a Ministry of Health Hospital explained, “As one of the few trained surgeons that specialise in women’s cancers, we manage the treatment of many women with different types of cancers. However, prior to this study, we received little training on how to incorporate genetics in our clinics. As a hospital situated outside of Klang Valley, it was a challenge for patients to have access to this kind of service. Thanks to the MaGiC study, we are delighted to provide equitable access to precision medicine and we hope that this will lead to an improvement in survival rates of ovarian cancer patients in Malaysia.” 

You may be surprised that a non-profit organisation in Malaysia is conducting significant cancer research in Asians. Especially one that is purely funded by donations. But the pandemic has made it hard for us to raise funds to continue the work – help us by donating as little as RM10/month to help save lives. Your donations help ensure the fight against cancer doesn’t miss Asians – especially Malaysians. 

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