Abnormal ageing gene linked to blood cancer
19 August 2013
A variant of a gene that helps control ageing in humans by acting
as a cell’s internal clock has been linked to blood cancer in a
major new study by the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), London.
The study also found three other genetic variants linked to
myeloma, one of the most common types of blood cancer. The
finding brings the total number of genetic variants linked to
myeloma to seven.
Myeloma causes white blood cells, called plasma cells, to grow
uncontrollably in the bone marrow and become stuck there, disrupting
normal blood production. It can be very painful, and affects bones
in multiple parts of the body.
The genetic marker found by the researchers is linked to a gene
called TERC, which regulates the length of DNA ‘caps’ on the ends of
chromosomes called telomeres. In healthy cells, these caps erode
over time, causing tissues to age, but some cancer cells seem able
to ignore the ageing trigger and keep on dividing. If further
studies confirm the link, TERC could be a target for future myeloma
The ICR team compared the DNA of myeloma patients with DNA from
people without the disease, using data from thousands of patients
from the UK and Germany. All of the four new genetic variants are
close to genes which are likely to play important roles in causing
Study co-leader Professor 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.
Eventually, understanding the complex genetics of blood cancers
should allow us to assess a person’s risk or identify new avenues
Professor Chris Bunce, Research Director at Leukaemia & Lymphoma
Research, said, “The identification of these risk gene variants
offers more compelling evidence that susceptibility to myeloma can
be inherited. Myeloma remains incurable and the effect on
patients’ quality of life can be devastating.
“By showing how these specific genes influence the cancer’s
development, this research could potentially lead to the development
of targeted myeloma drugs in the future. In addition we know that a
common condition called MGUS predisposes to the development of
myeloma. The identification of additional genetic risk factors in
these patients could revolutionise their future management and
The research, published in the journal Nature Genetics,
was mainly funded by charities Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research and
Myeloma UK, with additional support from Cancer Research UK.