We hear it a lot, and it’s a legitimate concern: science and medicine aren’t doing enough to help women, particularly women in midlife and menopause.

Well, times are changing.

Innovation around menopause care is happening, often at organizations led by women.

We’re truly excited to tell you that genneve is partnering with one such innovative organization – MiraKind. Their research into the intersection of genetics, development of cancer, and menopause has revealed an exciting path for exploration and hope for women at high risk of certain kinds of cancer.

 We talked with Dr. Joanne Weidhaas, MD, PhD and founder of non-profit MiraKind, about the KRAS variant she discovered, what her research means for women, and how she’s achieving her desire to bring doctors, patients, and scientists together for the benefit of all.

Can you explain what MiraKind is and what you do?

Dr. Joanne: MiraKind was founded in 2013, as a spin out from MiraDx, a company built on the discovery of a very new kind of cancer-associated genetic mutation. The purpose of MiraKind has been to share information about these mutations to the people they can help the most. Right now that is for women, as their first mutation, the KRAS-variant, predicts an increased risk of cancer.

Another priority of MiraKind is to help find prevention strategies for patients with the mutations they have discovered. For patients with the KRAS-variant, this strategy is to avoid estrogen withdrawal.

On your website, it says you engage in “patient-centric research.” What is that?

Dr. Joanne: At MiraKind, working hand-in-hand with the patient through direct patient contact and input is really a cornerstone of our philosophy. We want to learn from the patient as much as we want to educate them about our mutations and what they mean. We can’t find answers without them. And our goal is to find answers for them. Thus, it is really a two-way street!

So tell us about KRAS – what is it?

Dr. Joanne: Well, KRAS is a protein, and it is really important in cancer development, and treatment resistance. The KRAS-variant is the mutation that we discovered, which is basically the control knob for the KRAS protein. In people with the KRAS-variant, they do not control KRAS like other people. The communication between the regulators in the cell (micro RNA’s) and KRAS is flawed. So when non-KRAS-variant people lose estrogen, their cells stop growing; in those with the KRAS variant, cells start to grow, for example.

In some aspects of life, this probably makes them stronger, but, in certain situations, like hormone withdrawal, there is a miscommunication because of this different control knob, and they can develop cancer. The KRAS-variant is the very first example of a mutation of its kind in cancer. It is fundamentally different than other mutations associated with cancer, as we think we really can control it!

Should everyone get tested for it?

Dr. Joanne: Gosh, yes. we certainly think so! Absolutely all women when they become peri-menopausal at a minimum. It is so easy to be tested, and it is such important information to have when you are going through decisions about your health, from hormone replacement therapy, to screening! Because you can inherit the KRAS-variant from your dad, and cancer happens later, you do not need a strong family history of cancer to have the KRAS-variant.

Why is it particularly useful for women to get tested?

Dr. Joanne: As mentioned earlier, women are at a higher risk of developing cancer than men with the KRAS-variant. We have found that declining estrogen levels seem to be a main trigger for their cancer; thus, maintaining hormone levels is a really easy option to help prevent it.

How can I get tested?

Dr. Joanne: You can get tested by visiting our website at MiraKind.org,  selecting the KRAS-variant test, and placing your order. We will send you a simple at-home cheek swab to obtain your KRAS-variant results, which we can share through a doctor of your choice, and ideally through the network at genneve! The cost of testing is $295. You can also join a study through MiraKind.org and get a discount.

If I test positive for the variant, what’s my next step?

Dr. Joanne: The most important thing is to team up with a doctor who understands the KRAS-variant and is there to support you. The general recommendation is to continue estrogen and have that carefully managed. Also to get routine screenings, especially of the breasts and the ovaries.

What is the role for HRT in this conversation?

Dr. Joanne: Since we have found that declining estrogen levels trigger cancer in KRAS-variant positive women, we know that estrogen is protective for them. We support HRT, particularly in women with the KRAS-variant, as it helps protect them against their cancer risk.

Does HRT help prevent ovarian or lung cancer as well?

Dr. Joanne: We believe it will protect against all cancers in KRAS-variant women.

Why am I just now hearing about this very important research?

Dr. Joanne: There are a couple of reasons. First, this important research is really very new, and is such a paradigm shift. We now know that there are mutations that are control knobs, that they can be triggered (and thus managed), by external factors like estrogen, and that they can be as common as the KRAS-variant is. It’s very new, so we’ve chosen to develop this slowly and responsibly. Also, we wanted to find solutions, and not just scare people. We have chosen to do this through a non-profit model because we want to partner with patients to find prevention strategies. For us, prevention is the ultimate goal.

Where can I learn more?

Dr. Joanne: Visit us at our website at MiraKind.org or follow us on Facebook or Twitter @Mira_Kind. You can also just email me at joanne@mirakind.org!

Are you working on other genetic research?

Dr. Joanne: We have spent the last 10 years proving that the KRAS-variant is the incredibly powerful mutation that it is and finding other mutations like it. We now know exactly how to treat people with the KRAS-variant if they do develop cancer. We also can predict which patients will have toxicity to certain cancer treatments, like immune therapy, and radiation therapy. While the work on directing cancer treatment is done through our sister CLIA lab, MiraDx, the common theme to all of our work is to improve how we care for people and patients.

What is your role now, as head of MiraKind? What’s next for you and your organization?

Dr. Joanne: I also work as a radiation oncologist and vice-chair at UCLA, where I see breast cancer patients and run an R01 funded laboratory. I oversee the work that is done at MiraDx. I have always felt that MiraKind is where the heart of it all is. The ultimate goal for me is to empower people to get the necessary information to protect themselves from ever developing cancer. So the next steps are for us to find like-minded partners to help us do this!

At genneve, we’re very excited to be able to help Dr. Joanne and MiraKind spread the word and get more women tested. If you think you may be a good candidate for the test or to help MiraKind in their research, we urge you to go to the MiraKind website to learn more and get started.

Have you been tested? Would you consider it? We’d love to know your thoughts on testing for genetic risk factors such as the KRAS variant. Please share with us in the comments below, join our community forums, tell us on Facebook, or join our closed Facebook group, Midlife & Menopause Solutions.


Shannon Perry

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