Genetic mutation provides potential clue to Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

Study authors Ryan Morin (left) and Sarah Arthur (right)

October 01, 2018
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Over 8,000 Canadians were diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL) last year, making it the sixth most common cancer in Canada.

Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) is the most prevalent form of NHL. Depending on the sub-type of DLBCL, the 5-year survival rate is between 35 and 60%.

Ryan Morin, professor and researcher in the department of molecular biology and biochemistry and PhD candidate Sarah Arthur have been studying the mutations that can lead to NHL.

Morin explains that DLBCL is a genetically complex cancer in that there are approximately 100 or more genes that can mutate and contribute to the disease.

Morin and Arthur became intrigued when they noticed that roughly 34% of study subjects with DLBCL showed a mutation of the NFKBIZ gene.

Arthur says that this finding is critical because it is the first time that a mutation has been discovered in the three prime untranslated region (3’-UTR) of RNA.

She explains that cancers are normally caused by mutations in DNA, “So we don’t know that much about mutations in the 3’-UTR region. These sections do not make protein, which is where cancers start, they simply regulate when and how much of the protein is made”.

In this case, the team found that an abundance of the oncogene NFKBIZ is able to activate what is known as the NF-kappaB pathway.  This pathway drives the growth of cancer cells and is thought to make DLBCL harder to treat.

The team is intent on learning more about the function of NFKBIZ and how the mutation is involved in cancer.

Arthur says that if the NFKBIZ gene proves to be an important player in DLBCL, it will be useful in helping clinicians decide which drugs will be most effective in treating patients with DLBCL. “Having a mutation in this gene may make patients more susceptible to some drugs, while resistant to others” she says.

She adds, “This where personalized medicine could come into play. Treating patients based upon mutations specific to their cancer will correspond to better treatment outcomes and give patients the best chance of being cured”.

The study was published in Nature Communications.