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Different Genes Active in Cancer Patients of Different Races

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African-Americans are three times more likely to develop the blood cancer multiple myeloma than people of European descent. They die at twice the rate of Caucasians, too.

But it’s been unclear whether biology was driving those differences or whether socioeconomics or differences in access to care could explain them, John Carpten, Ph.D., director of the Institute of Translational Genomics at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, told GEN.

Now, the largest-ever genomic study of African-Americans with multiple myeloma, led by Dr. Carpten, finds that blacks are less likely to carry two dangerous mutations, and more likely to carry three genes that hadn’t been previously recognized as connected to the disease.

The genetic analysis, published Wednesday afternoon in PLoS Genetics, also showed that patients who had the same treatment regimen had the same outcome, regardless of ancestry—suggesting that disparities in care account for the excess number of African-American deaths.

Multiple myeloma has long been a poster child for medical disparities by race, said Daniel Auclair, Ph.D., senior vice president of research at the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF), and an author on the paper. “If you would provide equal access,” he said, African-Americans “should do just as well or maybe even better than non-African-American patients.”

The research relied on publicly available data from the CoMMpass study, sponsored by the MMRF, which aims to follow more than 1,000 newly diagnosed patients during a period of 8 years. The new analysis looked at the genes of both healthy and cancerous cells in 718 of those patients.

The study included 127 African-American patients—the largest cohort of its kind ever analyzed—as well as nearly 600 Caucasians.