American Association for Cancer Research

Press Releases: 2011

Study of Two Sisters Sheds Light on Lymphoma Evolution


December 12, 2011

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  • A woman received a transplant from her sister to treat leukemia.
  • Both sisters later developed lymphoma, suggesting transfer of a common ancestor.
  • Finding gives scientists new insight into lymphoma development.
PHILADELPHIA — When a 41-year-old woman was diagnosed with chronic-phase chronic myeloid leukemia, she received a bone marrow transplant and subsequent leukocyte infusion from her sister. These treatments controlled her leukemia, but seven years later, both sisters developed follicular lymphoma.

Although the phenomenon of a donor passing a malignancy to a recipient is well documented and considered a minimal risk to those in the transplant community, this case gave scientists the unique opportunity to understand the genetic abnormalities that led to follicular lymphoma in both cases.

“We were able to combine clinical activity with laboratory expertise to gain a real insight into the biology involved,” said David Weinstock, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, who published the case study in a recent issue of Cancer Discovery, the newest journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

The study was funded by a Stand Up To Cancer Innovative Research Grant.

Both sisters are now in remission after standard chemotherapy treatment. Weinstock’s research group will present their findings at the 2011 American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting and Exposition in San Diego on Dec. 12, 2011, at 6:00 p.m. PT.

Weinstock and his colleagues sequenced the DNA of samples derived from the two sisters as well as a frozen sample of the leukocyte infusion to determine the genetic lesions that led to the lymphoma.  

They found that both sisters had identical BCL2/IGH rearrangements and the same V(D)J rearrangement. They also identified 15 mutations that were present in both lymphomas. Researchers recovered 14 of these mutations from the donor lymphocyte infusions using ultra-deep sequencing — a finding that indicates that a lymphoma ancestor harboring these mutations was passed from the donor to the recipient seven years before clinical presentation.

Weinstock said this sort of knowledge could one day lead to an early treatment for follicular lymphoma.

“Currently the only curative approach is stem cell transplantation, but the more we understand about the genetic aberrations that lead to follicular lymphoma, the better we’ll be able to manage the disease,” said Weinstock.

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The mission of the American Association for Cancer Research is to prevent and cure cancer. Founded in 1907, the AACR is the world’s oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research. The membership includes 33,000 laboratory, translational and clinical researchers; health care professionals; and cancer survivors and advocates in the United States and more than 90 other countries. The AACR marshals the full spectrum of expertise from the cancer community to accelerate progress in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer through high-quality scientific and educational programs. It funds innovative, meritorious research grants, research fellowships and career development awards to young investigators, and it also funds cutting-edge research projects conducted by senior researchers. The AACR has numerous fruitful collaborations with organizations and foundations in the U.S. and abroad, and functions as the Scientific Partner of Stand Up To Cancer, a charitable initiative that supports groundbreaking research aimed at getting new cancer treatments to patients in an accelerated time frame. The AACR Annual Meeting attracts more than 17,000 participants who share the latest discoveries and developments in the field. Special Conferences throughout the year present novel data across a wide variety of topics in cancer research, treatment and patient care, and Educational Workshops are held for the training of young cancer investigators. The AACR publishes seven major peer-reviewed journals: Cancer Discovery; Cancer Research; Clinical Cancer Research; Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention; Molecular Cancer Therapeutics; Molecular Cancer Research; and Cancer Prevention Research. In 2010, AACR journals received 20 percent of the total number of citations given to oncology journals. The AACR also publishes Cancer Today, a magazine for cancer patients, survivors and their caregivers, which provides practical knowledge and new hope for cancer survivors. A major goal of the AACR is to educate the general public and policymakers about the value of cancer research in improving public health, the vital importance of increases in sustained funding for cancer research and biomedical science, and the need for national policies that foster innovation and the acceleration of progress against the 200 diseases we call cancer.

Media Contact:
Jeremy Moore
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Jeremy.Moore@aacr.org