Leukaemia and L...
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Genome sequencing reveals how follicular lymphoma becomes aggressive

Leukaemia and L...
Posted by
23 Dec 2013

Genome sequencing has painted the clearest picture yet of how a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma – follicular lymphoma – changes from a manageable disease into an aggressive cancer, offering new targets for drugs, according to research published in Nature Genetics on Sunday.

Genome sequencing has painted the clearest picture yet of how a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma – follicular lymphoma – changes from a manageable disease into an aggressive cancer, offering new targets for drugs, according to research published in Nature Genetics on Sunday.

Researchers from the Barts Cancer Institute at Queen Mary University, London (QMUL), sequenced the DNA of follicular lymphoma over the course of a patient’s cancer. They repeated the sequencing multiple times as the disease progressed to a more deadly form of the disease, known as transformed follicular lymphoma (tFL), to find the genetic changes driving cancer progression.

They found a number of key genes that lead the disease towards the more aggressive form. And, crucially, this provides a number of new targets for treatment that may stop follicular lymphoma from developing resistance to therapy or becoming aggressive.

Follicular lymphoma is a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma – a group of blood cancers that affect the immune system. Nearly a third of all non-Hodgkin lymphomas are follicular lymphoma, with more than 1,800 people diagnosed each year in the UK.

This type of blood cancer initially behaves like a chronic disease, with the majority of patients recovering and relapsing following treatment multiple times. Existing therapies are good at managing the disease but, in most cases, the cancer eventually develops resistance to treatment. In some patients, their cancer transforms into a more aggressive – and more deadly – form of follicular lymphoma (tFL).

The research was funded by Cancer Research UK, with additional fundring from Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research and the Kay Kendall Leukaemia Fund.

Professor Jude Fitzgibbon, lead researcher, said: “Resistance to treatment is a major problem for follicular lymphoma patients, as they often respond well to treatment and later relapse. This can be both physically and emotionally draining. And it gives the cancer multiple opportunities to evolve into a more aggressive – and more difficult to treat – form of the disease.

“We’ve been able to chronicle the chain of genetic events that leads to aggressive forms of the disease. If we can develop treatments to prevent some of these changes from taking place, we should be able to stop the cancer in its tracks.”

Nell Barrie, senior science information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “This study has uncovered some of the key molecular changes taking place and offers new targets for treating the disease. Research into the genetics that underpin cancer is helping us to better know the enemy and find new ways in which we might beat it.

“The most common symptoms for follicular and other non-Hodgkin lymphomas are painless swellings in the lymph nodes – typically in the neck, armpit or groin. If you notice these, or any other unusual or persistent symptoms, then it’s important to get them checked out by your doctor as soon as possible."