Henry Winter
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First 'risk' genes found for myeloma

Henry Winter
Posted by
08 Dec 2011

A team of scientists led by The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) has shown for the first time that a person’s genes influences their risk of developing multiple myeloma, according to a paper publishing today in Nature Genetics.

Relatives of multiple myeloma patients were known to have a two to fourfold increased risk of suffering the disease themselves, but until now scientists had not identified any genes responsible.

Using a technique called a genome wide association study, the scientists, who were part-funded by Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, scanned the DNA of 1,675 patients with multiple myeloma and compared them to around 5,900 healthy controls. They found two regions of the genome that were more common in people with multiple myeloma and were therefore linked to a higher chance of developing the disease.

While the additional risk from carrying any of the genes is modest – around a 30 per cent increased risk – the genes are common in the population. The authors therefore estimate the genes found play a role in around 37 per cent of multiple myeloma cases in European countries.

Joint senior author Professor Richard Houlston from the ICR says: “This is a very exciting development in our understanding of multiple myeloma. 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 multiple myeloma. By identifying these genetic variants, we are closer to understanding how this cancer develops. Ultimately, this could lead to improvements in diagnosis and treatment.”

Joint senior author Professor Gareth Morgan from the ICR and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust says: “Multiple myeloma is an aggressive cancer that sadly has poor survival rates. By learning more about the biology of multiple myeloma development, we hope to identify new drug targets – or even existing drugs – that could improve patient outcomes. Multiple myeloma is becoming more common as the population ages, and so it is even more important that we find new treatments.”

Dr David Grant, Scientific Director of Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, said: “This study represents a significant step forward in our understanding of the genetic causes of myeloma and should lead to further insights into this terrible cancer. It is important to remember that despite the hereditary nature of myeloma, the risk of patients’ relatives also developing the cancer is still comparatively low.”

Around 4,000 people in the UK are diagnosed each year with multiple myeloma, an aggressive cancer that affects a type of white blood cell in the bone marrow called plasma cells. Average survival after diagnosis is just three to five years, despite patients receiving intensive treatment with a combination of drugs.

Myeloma UK provided principal funding for the study, with additional support from Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research and Cancer Research UK.