SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — A routine blood check turned out to be a blessing in disguise for a young woman from St. George.

Madison Certonio, 25, learned that she is genetically predisposed to breast cancer after agreeing to submit her bloodwork to HerediGene, the world’s largest DNA mapping initiative based at Intermountain Healthcare.

“I was pretty emotional about it because it’s big news,” Certonio said. “But then I realized I’m young, and there are tests that can keep me safe.”

Lincoln Nadauld, the founder of HerediGene and an oncologist at Intermountain Healthcare, said scientists from the program look at 104 out of 20,000 genes in an individual’s genome that have been known to impact health so that they can identify mutated genes that may cause diseases.

HerediGene will only release results of the study to participants once they receive their consent. 

In Certonio’s case, medical professionals found that she had inherited a harmful variant of gene BRCA2, which means she has an increased risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. 

“[Certonio’s] whole life has been impacted by this in a positive way because she’s informed,” Nadauld said. “She’s making important decisions about her health. She’s planning for the future, and she won’t be blindsided by an unexpected diagnosis down the road.”

Certonio said that she felt very lucky to have been told the news so early in life, and now her family will be able to get tested and see if they have the gene as well. 

“Knowledge is power,” she said. 

The primary aim of HerediGene is to better predict serious diseases by studying an individual’s DNA, which allows the opportunity for early intervention. The program, launched in 2018, now has more than 150,000 participants. It seeks to enroll a total of 500,000 individuals, according to a statement on its website. 

“DNA is changing the way that we treat medicine today,” Nadauld said. “It will continue to impact the way that we treat patients for years and decades.”

Nadauld added that he believed this study can lead to a cure for cancer.

He also said that medical professionals have contacted around 8% of HerediGene participants about a health risk they found in their genes so far. The number is approximately three times higher than what they expected. 

The discovery of at-risk individuals was not the study’s only success. Nadauld said scientists were able to identify the gene variants that cause vertigo, a sensation of feeling dizzy and off balance, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, by using data from HerediGene.

Any U.S. resident is welcome to become a participant. Their DNA data will be collected by Intermountain Healthcare and deCode Genetics, a subsidiary of Amgen, which is a biopharmaceutical company based in Iceland. 

Individuals interested in participating will need to sign up on the website and visit the nearest lab to have their DNA collected.