Skip to content
Skip to navigation menu


Study reveals genetic links to common form of leukaemia

04 September 2008

Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia cells

School of Medicine scientists working on a collaborative study have proved that there is a genetic susceptibility to developing chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL), the most common form of leukaemia in the Western world.

Whilst anecdotal evidence has suggested that inherited factors play a role in the development of this type of leukaemia, until now scientists have been unable to prove a genetic basis.

Researchers from the School and The Institute of Cancer Research based in Sutton have found that variation in certain genes do play a part and this will open the way for better treatment of existing patients. It may also lead to preventive medicine for the disease in the future. Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia cells surrounding a nurse like cell

Close relatives (siblings, parents or children) of patients with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia have a seven-times higher chance of developing this blood cancer compared with the general population. For many cancers such as breast cancer, part of the familial risk is caused by a single major disease-risk gene - but no such gene exists for this disease.

The new research, which is reported in Nature Genetics has confirmed that the inheritance of a number of low-risk genes can explain part of the inherited susceptibility to develop chronic lymphocytic leukaemia.

Dr Chris Pepper, School of Medicine worked closely with The Institute of Cancer Research comparing DNA from chronic lymphocytic leukaemia patients with DNA from a healthy group. They have found six genes with variations in their genetic sequences that are strongly associated with the development of the disease.

Dr Chris Pepper, School of Medicine’s Department of Haematology said: "This research provides strong evidence that chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, in at least some cases, is caused by a combination of different genetic variations which are inherited. Each of these variations, by itself, has a very small effect on the risk of developing this leukaemia, but when all of them are present there is a significantly increased risk of leukaemia. Now that we have this evidence we can carry out studies to determine exactly how the different genes contribute to this risk. "

The study was principally funded by Leukaemia Research with additional funding from Cancer Research UK and carried out in The Institute of Cancer Research.

Leukaemia Research currently funds more than £700,000 of research into blood cancers in Cardiff University.

Dr David Grant, Scientific Consultant at Leukaemia Research, says: "This finding is very exciting as it carries the possibility of improving treatments for individuals who we know are at risk of developing this leukaemia. Clinical applications are still a little while away but this is a very important step forward in understanding the basis of this common leukaemia."

The report is published in the journal Nature Genetics under the title 'A genome-wide association study identifies six susceptibility loci for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia'.

Unable to validate links: Line 6: Unexpected char ? in attribute of tag "img"