Aging gene linked to blood cancer, study finds
The study takes an important step towards understanding the genetics of myeloma, suggesting an intriguing potential link with a gene that acts as a cell’s internal timer.
A new major study has linked a gene, which acts as a cell’s internal clock to help control the aging process, to blood cancer.
Researchers from the Institute of Cancer Research in London discovered a genetic variant that influences the aging process among four new variants linked to myeloma, a common type of blood cancer. In doing so, the study doubled the number of genetic variants linked to myeloma, bringing the total number to seven, and provides insight into genetic causes of the disease.
The results of the study were published in the journal Nature Genetics.
Affecting an estimated 4,700 patients each year, myeloma is caused by genetic mutations in white blood cells, which help the body to fight infection. White blood cells grow uncontrollably in the bone marrow, becoming stuck and disrupting normal blood production. Less than 40 percent of those with the disease survive for more than five years; 30 percent die within a year.
One of the newly discovered genetic markers is linked to a gene called TERC, which regulates the length of telomeres on the ends of DNA. As the tissues age in healthy cells, these caps erode over time. However, cancer cells seem able to ignore the aging trigger, and continue dividing. If confirmed by further research, TERC could become a target for myeloma treatments.
The new markers were determined by comparing the DNA of 4,692 myeloma patients with DNA from 10,990 people without the disease. By combining their samples with other samples from researchers in Germany, the team was able to access more data, which enabled greater statistical accuracy.
All of the new genetic variants are close to genes that likely trigger myeloma.
The study takes an important step towards understanding the genetics of myeloma, suggesting an intriguing potential link with a gene that acts as a cell’s internal timer. Further research will explore this link to determine whether myeloma is a direct result of cells ignoring the usual controls over aging and cell death. By understanding the complex genetics of blood cancers, researchers should be able to assess patients’ risk, and identify new treatment avenues.
By discovering how specific genes influence cancer’s development, the research could potentially lead to the development of targeted myeloma drugs. A common condition, known as MGUS, predisposes patients to myeloma development. Thus, the identification of additional risk factors in such patients could revolutionize future treatments.