Scientists identify first genetic link to myeloma

In collaboration with the Press Association

For the first time researchers have identified genetic variations that influence a person's chances of developing a type of blood cancer called multiple myeloma, according to a British study part-funded by Cancer Research UK.

Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) scientists examined the common genetic variants of 1,675 patients with multiple myeloma in order to find a common link.

Little is known about what causes the cancer, but it has been known for some time that relatives of people with multiple myeloma have an increased risk of developing the disease.

Published in Nature Genetics, the 'genome wide association' study, primarily funded by Myeloma UK, found that people with multiple myeloma had a greater chance of having tiny genetic variants known as single nucleotide polymorphisms, in chromosome three and seven.

They found that these were common in the general population, and increased a person's chances of developing the disease by 30 per cent.

Multiple myeloma affects around 4,000 people in the UK every year. This means that most people will carry the genetic variants and not develop the disease, while only about 40 per cent of people who develop the disease will carry the variants.

Rather than identifying who will or won't develop the disease, the researchers hope that the study will help to identify drug targets or further information about the disease's causes.

Study author Professor Richard Houlston from the ICR said it was an exciting development.

"This study is the first to confirm that some people are genetically predisposed to multiple myeloma. Compared to other cancer types, relatively little is known about the biological processes that cause this form of the disease. By identifying these genetic variants, we are closer to understanding how this cancer develops. Ultimately, this could lead to improvements in diagnosis and treatment."

Dr Julie Sharp, senior science information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: "While the genes discovered in this study have a relatively small impact on the risk of multiple myeloma, this research is the first to show exactly how faulty genes can affect a person's risk of the disease. We know relatively little about the causes of multiple myeloma and it's likely that there are many more factors at play here, but this takes us a step forward in increasing our knowledge of the disease."

Copyright Press Association 2011

References

  • Broderick P et al, Common variation at 3p22.1 and 7p15.3 influences multiple myeloma risk, Nature Genetics (2011)