How do genes and environment work together to cause leukaemia?

We don’t know enough about what causes acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, the most common childhood cancer. Dr Xiaomei Ma is studying how a child’s genes and exposure to medical X-rays work together to affect their risk of developing the disease. This could lead to new knowledge about the biological mechanisms underlying the development of childhood leukaemia and inform potential preventative measures.

Project Details

  • Project Title

    Interaction between ionising radiation and genetic susceptibility in the aetiology of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia

  • Lead Researcher

    Dr Xiaomei Ma

  • Research Centre

    Yale University

  • City & Institution Postcode

    Connecticut

  • Start Date

    2 January 2019

  • Duration

    24 months

  • Grant Amount

    $158,870.40

Xiaomei Ma Photo researcher

Overview

Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) is the most common childhood cancer, with about 400 children in the UK diagnosed every year. However, we don’t know enough about the causes of the disease. This means it is difficult to find ways to prevent children from developing ALL.

We know that a person’s risk of developing diseases can be affected by both the genetic code in their DNA, and by their environment – the different things they experience throughout their life. Previous research has suggested that children who have received medical X-rays might have a higher risk of developing ALL. However, given that a lot of children need to have medical X-rays, it’s important that we find out whether genetics would impact their risk of developing cancer.

Dr Xiaomei Ma thinks that a child’s genes may influence to what degree X-rays increase their risk of ALL. This would mean that some children are more likely than others to develop ALL after being exposed to X rays. Dr Ma and her colleagues plan to study this further in this project, funded by Children with Cancer UK. To do this, Dr Ma and her team will look at data from three large international studies of children with ALL. These studies combined involve more than 2,500 children, making this the largest project ever to investigate the link between genes, medical X-rays, and childhood ALL.

The studies have collected information about medical X-rays that the children have had, as well as their DNA code. In these children, the team will be able to identify variations within the DNA code which might have affected how medical X-rays are linked to the risk of developing ALL.

Potential impact

This project will shed light on how a child’s genes and their environment work together to affect their risk of developing ALL. This could reveal new ways to identify children at risk of developing this cancer and inform potential preventative measures.

About the research team

Dr Xiaomei Ma is a Professor of Epidemiology and Co-Leader of the Cancer Prevention and Control Research Program at Yale University and since 1998 has worked on the California Childhood Leukemia Study (CCLS).

In this project Dr Ma will work alongside three collaborators, each with extensive experience in researching the causes of childhood cancer and the role or genetics in carcinogenesis. They are Dr Shuangge Ma (Yale University), a genetic statistician with extensive expertise in the assessment of gene-environment interaction, Dr Logan Spector (University of Minnesota), an epidemiologist leading the genetic component from the Children’s Cancer Group (CCG) study of childhood ALL, and Dr Rodney Scott (University of Newcastle, Australia), a geneticist from the Australian Study of Childhood ALL (Aus-ALL).

In this project Drs X. Ma, S. Ma, Spector and Scott will combine data from three selected studies of children with ALL and conduct a series of statistical and bioinformatic analyses. By joining forces and sharing data from three studies into ALL the research team are uniquely positioned to address this important research question regarding the causes of childhood ALL.