Every month, one member of the TGMI team will tell us why they are so committed to the vision of the TGMI, and share a bit more about their work and interests. This week we hear from TGMI team member Shazia Mahamdallie, who is Molecular Genetics Technical Manager at the Institute of Cancer Research.
What has been the main focus of your work to date?
Genetics and disease. I started out working on the phylogenetics and population genetics of insect vectors of disease. I swapped sandflies for humans six years ago when I joined the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR). Since that time, my research has focused on discovering genes responsible for childhood cancer susceptibility. I’m also part of the TGLclinical Team who deliver molecular genetic testing of cancer predisposition genes.
What are you most excited about in genetic medicine?
I know I should answer the question, but actually I’d like to go back one step. That is, genetic medicine excites me. If used correctly the potential benefits that can arise as a result of genetic medicine – genetic testing, gene therapy, personalized medicine, predictive medicine – will transform healthcare.
What are you most concerned about in genetic medicine?
Misuse/overuse/overinterpretation of genetic information…I should most probably stop watching films like Gattaca.
Why did you get involved in TGMI?
One of the questions TGMI aims to address is, how are the clinical testing processes in genetic medicine best configured to maximise utility, accuracy, scalability and affordability? One way to address accuracy in this context is the standardisation of the processes used. I hope my involvement in TGMI will help to identify those areas that require standardisation and then provide easily adoptable resolutions to allow this standardisation.
What is the most important thing that you would like the TGMI to achieve?
To be a globally go-to reliable resource for providers of genetic testing.
If you had a magic wand (i.e. unlimited people/resources) what would you do to make genetic medicine work?
Education. Initiatives such as TGMI are vital for realising and delivering the promise of genetic medicine. However, educating the end user – the patients and families – before they encounter genetic medicine will better prepare us for, and allow us all to thrive in, the gene age.
Do you have a favourite gene? If so – what and why?
A favourite, no, but SHH (sonic hedgehog) is one of the genes that piqued my early interest in genetics. Learning about SHH at university shifted my learning away from phenotypic adaption to a gene-centred view of evolution. Furthermore, SHH is a fascinating gene from three perspectives. Functionally, SHH is a fundamentally important gene in human development. In addition, SHH typifies the ever merging fields of science and culture; the gene “sonic hedgehog” was named after the iconic pop culture Sega mascot, whereas genetics has fed into colloquialisms such as “it’s in my DNA”. Finally, SHH is one of the most famous genes in the debate of appropriate gene naming, which is especially relevant when scientific discoveries are translated into medicine.
What is a surprising fact that few people know about you?
I was a ball girl at the 1994 Men’s Singles Wimbledon Final. Pete Sampras warmed-up in ‘my’ end of the court; the first ball I threw to him was wildly off-target, but thankfully that did not distract him from winning.
If you had a chance to experience a completely different career for a week, what job would you try?
I’d swap the laboratory and office for a ballroom. In my youth I danced for many years. So if during my week I could win the World Ballroom Dance Championships with a mean quickstep and feisty tango that would be lovely.