Genetic Signature for Multiple Myeloma

Each patient is unique, and so is their response to treatment. Shaji Kumar, M.D., Brian Van Ness, Ph.D., and Jin Jen, M.D., Ph.D., are working to identify a set of genes that will predict response to treatment for multiple myeloma.

Multiple myeloma is a rare cancer of the plasma cells that causes abnormal cells to accumulate in the bone marrow. This can lead to kidney problems, high blood calcium levels, and bone lesions. Although multiple myeloma is incurable, several treatments have shown promise combatting the disease. One of the most effective of these drugs, called proteasome inhibitors, works in many patients but can become ineffective over time.

Awarded funding from the Minnesota Partnership for Biotechnology and Medical Genomics in 2015, the researchers seek to understand the difference between multiple myeloma cell lines on a genetic basis. The researchers began by categorizing cells on the basis of their response to treatment. The next step will be to translate the findings to patients.

“If we have a signature that predicts for response to this class of drugs, then we could potentially predict the response of the patient to treatment,” says Dr. Kumar. “That could lead us to a potentially usable screening tool, allowing patients to avoid unnecessary side effects and get the maximum benefit from the drug.”

Dr. Van Ness and his team at the University of Minnesota will be conducting most of the cell line work and data set analysis. Dr. Kumar and his team at Mayo Clinic primarily work with the patient and clinical trial aspects and genomic studies on the patient tumor cells. Dr. Jen and her team at Mayo Clinic will focus on the genomic evaluation of the myeloma cells.

“Collaboration is important because everyone is looking at different aspects of the same thing,” says Dr. Kumar. “It’s important to share data so we can connect the dots and look at the problem as a whole, instead of part of it.”

The researchers hope that the project will provide information to improve treatment for multiple myeloma patients, while increasing understanding of disease biology.

“We continue to fight against this disease and it’s going to be piece by piece,” says Dr. Kumar. “This is an important part of how we treat the disease right now. We hope that this will help us improve treatment for the patients and, at some point, reach a cure for the disease, too.”