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The International Myeloma Foundation Identifies Potential Link between Genetic Pathways and Environmental Risks for Myeloma

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The International Myeloma Foundation (IMF) said findings from its myeloma DNA bank identified genetic links to bone disease in multiple myeloma, a cancer of cells in the bone marrow, that in some cases can also include bone deterioration.

These findings also may both support and explain associations that have been observed between environmental toxins such as dioxins and benzene, and an increased risk for myeloma.

The findings were made with resources from Bank On A Cure® (BOAC), the world's first repository of DNA samples created to advance the understanding of myeloma.

The study found that genetic pathways associated with the ability to neutralize environmental toxins are defective in patients with classic myeloma (myeloma with bone involvement). These pathways are identified as specific segments of genes called single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs that are known to be associated with toxin metabolism and DNA repair.

These findings are in line with observations of patient populations and groups of workers including firefighters that had previously demonstrated a correlation between increased risk for myeloma and exposure to hydrocarbons and related chemicals.

“Identifying these genetic pathways was unexpected,” said Brian G.M. Durie, M.D., chairman of the International Myeloma Foundation and lead author of the BOAC presentation.

“We were looking at bone biology and the SNPs associated with toxin metabolism fell into place. Now, working back through the gene pathways, we have a robust model of myeloma bone disease that may explain the epidemiological observations.”

Additionally BOAC identified multiple SNPs associated with bone biology, the original focus of this research. The findings have identified SNPs that may be predictors for bone disease in patients with myeloma.

“These findings move us closer to personalized medicine,” said Michael Katz, BOAC project manager. “If we can use genetic tests to identify those myeloma patients at risk for bone involvement, we can begin treatment earlier with medications to help prevent or slow bone destruction caused by the myeloma.”

The research also turned up some preliminary but intriguing findings that show one of the cell signaling pathways associated with myeloma is also the natural target of thalidomide, a widely used treatment for myeloma. In a developing fetus thalidomide acting on this target leads to deformed limbs, but in myeloma where the target is defective, the thalidomide appears to block the development of the cancer.