Allison Kurian never had a chance. The daughter of two prominent academics, Diana Chapman Walsh the former President of Wellesley College and Chris Walsh, a renowned Harvard biochemist – Allison was destined by genetics and environment, it seems, to become the exceptional scholar and clinician-scientist who now directs the Stanford Women’s Clinical Cancer Genetics Program.
A self-described studious kid, Allison grew up in a house where scholarship was prized, and interesting intellectual celebrities were frequent guests. Despite her affection for Boston, Allison attended college at Stanford, which she adored, then returned to Boston for medical school (where she overlapped with David, who remembers her on clinical rotations playing Gallant to his Goofus), trained in internal medicine at MGH, and then returned once again to Palo Alto for her oncology fellowship training at Stanford, then was invited to join the faculty.
On today’s show, Allison discusses the current state of breast cancer genetics, her research focus, and addresses a range of really interesting and difficult questions, such as who should be screened for susceptibility genes. She touches on examples of people who should be screened but often aren’t (patients with ovarian cancer), and examples of how well-intentioned screening can be helpful if correctly interpreted but harmful if misinterpreted, such as if a “variant of uncertain significance” is viewed as pathologic, potentially leading to unwarranted major surgery.
Allison has a remarkable gift for making the complex understandable, and for offering evidence-backed insight with compassion and humanity. We are thrilled to have her on the program today!
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