We are supporting a project at the Queen’s University Belfast, which could offer a new treatment option for people with myeloma. We also have a TAP centre based at Belfast City Hospital.
Queen’s University Belfast
Myeloma is a cancer that affects plasma cells, a type of white blood cell found in bone marrow. Plasma cells usually produce antibodies to fight infection. But in myeloma, plasma cells become abnormal and produce antibodies called paraproteins that are unable to combat infections and disease. Myeloma also causes the abnormal plasma cells to multiply, crowding out all the normal red and white blood cells from the bone marrow. The abnormal plasma cells can also activate cells called osteoclasts, which break down bone, so people with myeloma will often experience bone pain and even breaks. Because myeloma can affect multiple places in the body where bone marrow is active, for instance within the bones of the pelvis, skull and ribs, it is sometimes referred to as ‘multiple myeloma.’
An important approach to treating myeloma is to block the function of a large group of proteins that form the ubiquitin proteasome system. Unwanted or damaged proteins are tagged for removal by a protein called ubiquitin, and the proteasome breaks these down. Drugs that disrupt this process are called proteasome inhibitors, which include bortezomib. Although proteasome inhibitors can be successfully used to manage myeloma, a significant proportion of people stop responding to this treatment or experience bad side-effects.
Research now shows that we may be able to use drugs to block the function of individual proteins within the proteasome, which may reduce side-effects seen with traditional proteasome inhibitors. Dr Alexandra Irvine has found high expression of one of these individual proteins in myeloma cells. The team will investigate if this protein is important in helping myeloma cells to grow and survive, and they will also test drugs to target this protein in myeloma cells. It is hoped that this research will help to find new treatment options for myeloma.