A major new study has revealed people who inherit genetic variants affecting the function of their immune system are at increased risk of developing the most common form of leukaemia.
Scientists have linked the risk of developing chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) to the inheritance of nine regions of DNA, five of which help white blood cells fight disease.
Two of the variants fell within regions of DNA that have previously been linked with multiple sclerosis (MS) and lupus. Each were individually associated with an increased risk of up to 17 per cent of developing CLL.
This study, the largest of its kind, was co-led by scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research in London. The research was published in Nature Communications.
The researchers have now found 41 DNA changes that influence the risk of developing CLL.
CLL is a slow-growing a cancer of the white blood cells that affects around 3,500 people a year.
The cancerous white blood cells aren’t as good at fighting infection as their healthy counterparts, and, competing for space with other essential cells such as red blood cells and platelets.
The new study combined data from six previous studies and two new studies involving 6,200 people with CLL.
One of the new variants resides in the gene BANK1, only ever activated in a type of white blood cell called B cells, and linked to the autoimmune disease lupus.
Another was found in the gene ZBTB7A, which regulates B cells numbers – so errors in this gene could lead to too many B cells in the bloodstream and bone marrow.
A third was found in a region of chromosome 22 which has been linked with the risk of developing multiple sclerosis.
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.”
Source: MS-UK (08/02/17)