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Frederick Li Dies

Frederick Li, who along with Joseph Fraumeni showed that genetics could play a major role in some cancers, has died, the New York Times reports. He was 75.

Li and Fraumeni, both then at the National Cancer Institute, uncovered four families in which cancer was rampant, afflicting some members more than once. Through pedigree analysis, they concluded that a dominant gene was being passed from parent to child that predisposed them to developing cancer. This, the Times notes, was in an era when viruses and environmental factors were the focus of cancer research efforts.

After publishing their findings in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 1969, the researchers identified additional affected families, and the condition was dubbed Li-Fraumeni syndrome. They saved blood samples from the families and in the 1980s, linked the condition to a mutation in the TP53 gene.

"We thought genetic factors were involved," Fraumeni tells the Times. "We thought it was an opportunity to search for an underlying mechanism that might apply to a wide variety of cancers."

Li worked to find ways to prevent or detect cancer early in susceptible patients, finding that Li-Fraumeni syndrome patients who received radiation treatment were more likely to later develop additional tumors. He also worried, the Times notes, about the ethical issues Li-Fraumeni syndrome families would face once a genetic test for the syndrome became available.

"Fred Li was a true pioneer in the field of cancer genetics who anticipated most of the challenges we later faced," Kenneth Offit from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center adds.

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