From Featuring Dr Chris Steele MBE

Faulty genes increase risk of multiple myeloma

Genes identified

For the first time, UK scientists have identified genetic variations which increase the risk of developing multiple myeloma, according to research.

People who carry the genes have a 30 per cent higher risk of developing the disease, scientists from the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) said.

Multiple myeloma is an aggressive cancer of plasma cells, a type of white blood cell in the bone marrow. Around 4,000 people in the UK are diagnosed each year with the condition, and patient survival, on average, is just three to five years after diagnosis, despite receiving intensive treatment.

Relatives of multiple myeloma patients were already known to have a two to four-fold increased risk of developing the disease, but scientists had not been able to identify the genes responsible.

Using a technique called a genome wide association study, the scientists scanned the DNA of 1,675 patients with multiple myeloma and compared this with the DNA from around 5,900 healthy individuals.

Two regions of DNA with genetic variations were found that were more common in people with multiple myeloma, and so were linked to a higher risk of developing the disease.

The genes are common in the general population, the scientists said, and estimated that they play a role in 37 per cent of all myeloma cases in European countries.

Professor Gareth Morgan from the ICR and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust said: "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."

This article was published on Mon 28 November 2011