Link discovered between immune system genes and leukaemia
Research coming out of The Institute of Cancer Research, and funded by charity Bloodwise, has found that people who inherit genetic variants that affect the immune system stand an increased risk of developing leukaemia. The research indicates that the chances of developing chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL), the most common form of leukaemia, can be pinned down to nine regions of DNA.
The research was based upon studying the data from six previously-conducted studied upon CLL and two further new studied that enrolled 6,200 people. The study found that 41 DNA changes strongly influence the risk of developing CLL, with regions of DNA that code to help white blood cells fight disease particularly affected.
Study co-leader Professor Richard Houlston, Professor of Molecular and Population Genetics at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said, “We knew people were more likely to develop chronic lymphocytic leukaemia if someone in their family had suffered from the disease, but our new research takes a big step towards explaining the underlying genetics. CLL is essentially a disease of the immune system, and it’s fascinating that so many of the new genetic variants we have uncovered seem to directly affect the behaviour of white blood cells and their ability to fight disease. Understanding the genetics of CLL can point us towards new treatments for the disease, and help us to use existing targeted drugs more effectively.”
The hope is that, as Houlston points out, possible new therapies can be identified through the research or existing treatments can be improved upon to better target the genes that are linked to CLL. The study found the variants in the genes BANK1and ZBTB7A, both of which are linked to white blood cells known as B cells, are related to the development of CLL.
Professor Paul Workman, Chief Executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said, “We’re increasingly appreciating that part of the key to understanding cancer and how to treat it lies in the immune system. This fascinating study makes a link between genetic variants in the immune system and the development of leukaemia, and implicates regions of DNA which are also involved in auto-immune diseases. The findings could point us towards new ways of treating leukaemia or better ways of using existing treatments – potentially including immunotherapies.”
As mentioned by Workman, treating cancer with immunotherapy has been one of the key advancements in treating cancer in the last few years. Immunotherapy, through treatments such as BMS’ Opdivo and MSD’s Keytruda, is leading the way in various cancers and clinical trials are ongoing to determine whether they can also have an impact upon leukaemia.
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