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Study Ties Aging Gene to Blood Cancer

Update Date: Aug 19, 2013 11:24 AM EDT

In a major new study, researchers were able to link the aging gene, which is dubbed the cell's internal clock to blood cancer. The aging gene is known to be responsible for the aging process of cells. In cancer, cells often go haywire and the aging process is no longer considered normal. In this new study conducted by scientists from the Institute of Cancer Research London, they discovered four new variants responsible for one of the more common types of blood cancer called myeloma that might be tied to the aging gene.

For this study, the researchers looked at 4,672 patients diagnosed with myeloma. They compared the DNA of these patients to the DNA of 10,990 people who were not afflicted with this disease. From these comparisons, the scientists discovered four new markers that might indicate an increased risk of getting myeloma. The team reported finding tiny variations identified as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the genetic code of people with myeloma. The researchers stated that one of the four SNPS they identified was linked to the TERC gene. This gene is in charge of regulating the lengths of telomeres, which are found on the ends of DNA molecules and have been tied to aging.

In a previous study, a research team also form the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) discovered three genetic variations in the DNA that increased one's risk of getting myeloma. This team was funded by Myeloma UK. Now, with the new research, there are seven total genetic variants that researchers have at their disposal when they are screening people for their risk of developing this type of blood cancer.

"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," professor Richard Houlston, the study's co-leader said. Houlston is a professor of molecular and population genetics at the ICR. "We know cancer often seems to ignore the usual controls over aging 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 for treatment."

According to statistics from the American Cancer Society, there will be over 22,000 new cases of myeloma in 2013 with nearly 11,000 fatalities. Myeloma is caused by genetic mutations in the white blood cells that lead to the overproduction of plasma cells in the bone marrow. This production prohibits the body from making normal blood cells. The condition is currently incurable and is extremely painful. Around 30 percent of people with this condition will die within the first year while fewer than 40 percent of them will survive over five years. These new variants could hopefully help with new research looking into preventative measures or new treatment options. The study was published in Nature Genetics

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