New clues to origins of myeloma

In collaboration with the Press Association

A gene that helps control ageing could also be linked to a type of blood cancer, according to an international team of researchers.

The team, led by researchers at The Institute of Cancer Research in London, found that four specific areas of human genetic code - our genome - are linked to an altered risk of developing myeloma, a type of cancer that from blood cells in the bone marrow.

This brings the total known number of genetic regions linked to myeloma to seven.

Around 4,700 people in the UK develop myeloma every year, after they develop genetic mutations in immune cells called plasma cells.

In people with myeloma, these cells start to grow uncontrollably in the bone marrow and get stuck there, which can lead to a disruption of normal blood production.

Dr Holger Auner, a Cancer Research UK myeloma expert who was not involved in the study, said the study was "important" and shed new light on how the disease develops.

"It provides further evidence that some people may inherit an increased risk of developing myeloma," he said.

"But it's important to remember that myeloma is not an inherited disease in the traditional sense that it is passed on from one generation to the next. The risk that an individual family member of a myeloma patient will also develop myeloma is extremely low," he added.

The researchers analysed the genetic make-up of 4,692 myeloma patients and compared the data with those of 10,990 people who did not have the disease.

The study, which was published in the journal Nature Genetics, found that tiny variations in the genetic code, known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) were more likely to be found in patients than in people without myeloma.

One of the four new SNPs is linked to a gene called TERC, which is responsible for regulating the length of caps on the ends of DNA molecules called telomeres, and thought to be involved in ageing.

The researchers said that if these findings are confirmed in other studies, the gene could become the focus for better myeloma treatments in the future.

Study co-leader Dr Richard Houlston, Professor of Molecular and Population Genetics at The Institute of Cancer Research, said: "Our study has taken an important step forward in understanding the genetics of myeloma, and suggested an intriguing potential link with a gene that acts as a cell's internal timer.

"We know cancer often seems to ignore the usual controls over ageing and cell death, and it will be fascinating to explore whether in blood cancers that is a result of a direct genetic link."

The study was funded by charities Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research and Myeloma UK, and received additional funding from Cancer Research UK.

Copyright Press Association 2013

References

  • Chubb D et al. Common variation at 3q26.2, 6p21.33, 17p11.2 and 22q13.1 influences multiple myeloma risk. Nature Genetics (2013) DOI: 10.1038/ng.2733