New research, published recently in the journal Leukemia, has found a gene that appears to be crucial to the development of myeloma, a cancer of the blood. It’s thought that myeloma almost always progresses from MGUS, a symptomless condition that is common in older adults. Researchers from the University of Birmingham and hospitals across the West Midlands have uncovered how changes in bone marrow needed for this cancer to grow are already present in the preceding condition, and that early medical intervention could prevent this blood cancer from developing.
Myeloma affects plasma cells, a type of white blood cell. In the U.K. alone, over 4,000 people a year are diagnosed with this cancer. Survival rates are not good: less than half of those diagnosed survive for more than five years. Debilitating and painful bone damage, anemia, and nausea are some of the symptoms associated with myeloma. Other organs are never affected by myeloma—that is, it never metastasizes—suggesting that myeloma cells specifically need bone marrow cells to survive and thrive.
MGUS affects as many as 7% of people over the age of 85 and roughly one in 100 people with MGUS will develop myeloma. There is no way to predict who will get it and when, at least not yet. The research shows that early on in MGUS development, bone marrow cells change behavior to become more open to cancer cell growth. A key gene, PADI2, becomes overactive in connective tissue cells found in the bone marrow, which leads to an overproduction of interleukin-6 (IL-6), a signaling molecule.
Other diseases have been linked to this gene as well, including rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease and autoimmune disease. But there’s good news with that: it means that any drug developed for myeloma treatment could be even more beneficial, as it could also impact the treatment of these other health issues.
“Research Suggests Common Blood Cancer Could Be Prevented Before it Develops,” University of Birmingham web site; http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/news/latest/2016/07/research-suggests-common-blood-cancer-could-be-prevented-before-it-develops.aspx, last accessed July 11, 2016.