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Study Reveals Genetic Link to Leukaemia


Sunday 31st August 2008


Researchers at The Institute of Cancer Research have For the first time proven that there is a genetic susceptibility to developing chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL), the most common form of leukaemia in the developed world.

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

A study carried out at The Institute of Cancer Research  which was principally funded by Leukaemia Research with additional funding from Cancer Research UK has proven 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.

The results of the research are published in the journal Nature Genetics (31 August).

Close relatives, i.e. 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 CLL.

The new research has confirmed that the inheritance of a number of low-risk genes can explain part of the inherited susceptibility to develop CLL. Professor Richard Houlston and his team at The Institute of Cancer Research compared DNA from CLL 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 CLL.

Professor Houlston explains the findings: "This research provides strong evidence that CLL, 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 CLL, 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."

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."



For further information please contact Cathy Beveridge at The Institute of Cancer Research press office on 020 7153 5359 or [email protected]


Notes to Editors
1. The report is published online from 31 August 2008 in the journal Nature Genetics under the title 'A genome-wide association study identifies six susceptibility loci for chronic lymphocytic leukemia.' Corresponding author: Dr Richard Houlston, Institute of Cancer Research, Sutton, Surrey.

2. Leukaemia Research provided principal funding for the study. Additional funding was provided by CLL Global Research Foundation, Cancer Research UK, the Arbib fund, and the European Union. Author Dalemari Crowther-Swanepoel (DC-S) was in receipt of a PhD studentship from The Institute of Cancer Research.

3. Chronic lymphocytic leukaemia is a slowly progressing form of leukaemia, characterised by an increased number of white blood cells known as lymphocytes. With about 2,750 new cases occurring each year in the UK, it is the most common form of leukaemia and occurs predominantly in late middle age onwards. It has variable symptoms and course, but may be diagnosed by chance before the patient develops any clinical symptoms of the disease.


The Institute of Cancer Research
The Institute of Cancer Research is Europe's leading cancer research centre with expert scientists working on cutting edge research. It was founded in 1909 to carry out research into the causes of cancer and to develop new strategies for its prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care. For more information visit

The Institute is a charity that relies on voluntary income. The Institute is one of the world's most cost-effective major cancer research organisations with over 95p in every £ of total income directly supporting research.


Leukaemia Research
Leukaemia Research is the only national charity devoted exclusively to improving treatments, finding cures and learning how to prevent leukaemia, Hodgkin's and other lymphomas, myeloma and the related blood disorders, diagnosed in 24,500 people in the UK every year.


Cancer Research UK
• Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to beat cancer.
• Cancer Research UK carries out world-class research to improve understanding of the disease and find out how to prevent, diagnose and treat different kinds of cancer.
• Cancer Research UK ensures that its findings are used to improve the lives of all cancer patients.
• Cancer Research UK helps people to understand cancer, the progress that is being made and the choices each person can make.
• Cancer Research UK works in partnership with others to achieve the greatest impact in the global fight against cancer.
For further information about Cancer Research UK's work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 020 7121 6699 or visit

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