The same gene that acts as a person's internal clock has been linked to a common type of blood cancer, giving more support to the claim that the disease could be inherited.
A team of researchers at The Institute of Cancer Research in London found that the genetic variant that influences a person's aging process was also present in four new variants linked to myeloma, a type of blood cancer that affects thousands of people each year.
The American Cancer Society estimates, for example, that there will be more than 22,000 new cases of myeloma in 2013 and that nearly 11,000 people will die from the disease.
Myeloma is caused by genetic mutations in white blood cells, which are responsible for helping a person fight infections and injuries. In a person with this condition, abnormal white blood cells – called plasma cells – grow uncontrollably in the bone marrow and block the production of normal blood cells.
The disease is said to be extremely painful, often affecting bones in multiple parts of the body, and has no known cure. Less than 40 percent of those with myeloma survive for more than five years and about 30 percent die within one year.
The researchers compared the genetic make-up of nearly 5,000 myeloma patients with those of about 11,000 people without the disease. The genetic variants they linked to myeloma more than doubled the number of those linked to the disease, which gives scientists a better chance of identifying a person's risk of developing myeloma and different avenues for treatment.
"We know cancer often seems to ignore the usual controls over ageing and cell death, and it will be fascinating to explore whether in blood cancers that is a result of a direct genetic link," said co-author Richard Houlston, in a released statement. "Eventually, understanding the complex genetics of blood cancers should allow us to assess a person's risk or identify new avenues for treatment."
And because the variants are linked to a gene that can be inherited, the researchers believe there could be evidence that a person's chances of developing myeloma can also be inherited.
"Myeloma remains incurable and the effect on patients' quality of life can be devastating," said Chris Bunche, a professor and research director at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research. "By showing how these specific genes influence the cancer's development, this research could potentially lead to the development of targeted myeloma drugs in the future."