04:01am Sunday 23 February 2020

New genetic links found to most common type of leukaemia

Scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, analysed the genomes of 1,739 patients with CLL and 5,199 healthy adults. The study linked four single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), small inherited differences in DNA, with susceptibility to CLL.

The research, published online on Sunday 1 December in the journal Nature Genetics, was principally funded by blood cancer charity Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, with additional support from Cancer Research UK and the Arbib Fund.

CLL is the most common form of leukaemia in western countries, with over 3,000 people diagnosed in the UK each year. It is a slowly progressing and currently incurable form of cancer that affects blood-producing cells in the bone marrow. Close relatives of CLL patients are at eight times higher risk of being diagnosed than the general population.
Study leader Richard Houlston, Professor of Molecular and Population Genetics at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said: “We are starting to complete the picture of how CLL development is dictated by mutations in regions of the genome connected to specific aspects of DNA repair. These genetic factors explain a significant proportion of inherited cases of CLL.”

The total number of risk variants for CLL identified is now 30, with the genetic factors newly identified by the study found around a set of genes responsible for the function of telomeres. Telomeres are sections of DNA that cap the end of chromosomes, preventing damage during cell division and the creation of mutated and eventually cancerous cells. 

Professor Chris Bunce, Research Director at Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, said: “These findings are very important – the identification of this cluster of so many risk variants around these neighbouring genes greatly deepens our understanding of how CLL develops. The challenge is now to use this information to improve treatments for this blood cancer, which remains incurable.”


For further information, please contact Henry Winter at the Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research Press Office on 020 7269 9019, press mobile 07824 375880, or email: hwinter@beatingbloodcancers.org.uk

Notes to editors

The report is published online in the journal Nature Genetics under the title ‘A genome-wide association study identifies multiple susceptibility loci for chronic lymphocytic leukemia’. Principle author:  Professor Richard Houlston, The Institute of Cancer Research

About Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research
Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research is the only UK charity dedicated to improving the lives of patients with all types of blood cancer, including leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma. Its life-saving research is focused on finding causes, improving diagnosis and treatments, and running ground-breaking clinical trials for all blood cancer patients. Around 30,000 people of all ages, from children to adults, are diagnosed with blood cancers such as leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma every year in the UK.

Further information, including patient information booklets, is available from beatingbloodcancers.org.uk or on 020 7504 2200.



The Institute of Cancer Research, London, is one of the world’s most influential cancer research institutes.

Scientists and clinicians at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) are working every day to make a real impact on cancer patients’ lives. Through its unique partnership with The Royal Marsden Hospital and ‘bench-to-bedside’ approach, the ICR is able to create and deliver results in a way that other institutions cannot. Together the two organisations are rated in the top four cancer centres globally.


The ICR has an outstanding record of achievement dating back more than 100 years. It provided the first convincing evidence that DNA damage is the basic cause of cancer, laying the foundation for the now universally accepted idea that cancer is a genetic disease. Today it leads the world at isolating cancer-related genes and discovering new targeted drugs for personalised cancer treatment.


As a college of the University of London, the ICR provides postgraduate higher education of international distinction. It has charitable status and relies on support from partner organisations, charities and the general public.


The ICR’s mission is to make the discoveries that defeat cancer. For more information visit www.icr.ac.uk 





Henry Winter

Science Press Officer

Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research


t: 020 7504 2219

f: 020 7405 3139

m: 07824 375880


Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research, 39-40 Eagle Street, London WC1R 4TH

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