Can immune cells affect risk of progression in smouldering myeloma?

Could understanding more about the nature of B cell populations in smouldering myeloma hold the key to preventing myeloma developing?

As part of her Clinical Research Training Fellowship, jointly-funded with the Medical Research Council, Dr Louise Ainley, University College London, aims to understand which patients with smouldering myeloma will progress to myeloma, and understand what part B cells play in this.

The challenge

Almost 6,000 people each year are diagnosed with myeloma – a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Although many new treatments exist, the disease remains incurable.

Smouldering myeloma is a pre-cancerous condition, where abnormal cells are detected in the bone marrow, but patients don’t have any symptoms.

Progression to myeloma happens when cancer cells escape the normal control of the cells of the immune system. Around 50% of people with smouldering myeloma will progress to myeloma in five years, but it’s not fully understood why some patients progress and others don’t.

The science behind the research

Dr Louise Ainley aims to understand if we can predict which patients with smouldering myeloma will progress to myeloma, and how the important infection-protecting B cells of the immune system are involved.

Most research to date has focused on T cells – a type of white blood cell that can kill cancer cells. B cells are another type of white blood cell that fight infection. B cells in myeloma often don’t work properly, which means frequent infections are common.

Dr Ainley and her research colleagues have already found distinct populations of B cells, which they believe hold clues to the development of this type of cancer.

During her fellowship, Dr Ainley will use a range of sophisticated lab techniques to:

  1. Investigate differences between smouldering myeloma B cell populations
  2. Look at how these B cells function in smouldering myeloma, compared to B cells from healthy people
  3. Track how B cell populations change overtime as myeloma develops

What difference will this research make?

Greater knowledge about the distinct differences in B cell populations and how these change as the disease evolves could be a game-changer for this currently incurable type of cancer.

As well as helping to predict which patients will progress, this information could inform design of future targeted treatments.  This could ultimately mean myeloma is treated earlier, delayed, or even prevented from developing in the first place.

Project information

Lead researcher

Dr Louise Ainley


University College London

Blood cancer type


Award type

Clinical Research Training Fellowship

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