Researchers launch screening study of individuals at high risk of multiple myeloma

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  • Aim is to learn about molecular changes as precursor conditions progress to myeloma
  • Study data will be used in development of drugs to prevent progression to myeloma

Researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute are seeking participants in a new study, funded as part of the Stand Up To Cancer Multiple Myeloma Dream Team, to identify people with conditions that are precursors of multiple myeloma and track their health over time. The study, dubbed PROMISE, will help scientists track the molecular changes that occur as precursor conditions progress to myeloma. This information will be critical in the development of drugs that prevent the disease from advancing and improve patients’ survival.

Almost all patients diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the bone marrow, have had one of two precursor conditions: monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) or smoldering multiple myeloma. Because there is no routine screening for these conditions, and because they generally don’t produce symptoms, they often go undiagnosed. Even when they are diagnosed, current practice is to monitor patients with a “watch and wait” approach and begin treatment only after myeloma symptoms develop.

“Our hope is that by screening and identifying the precursor conditions early, we can understand the molecular signs of progression to myeloma, and develop therapies that will replace ‘watch and wait’ and make myeloma a preventable disease,” said the study’s principal investigator, Irene Ghobrial, MD, of Dana-Farber.

The study is open to two groups of individuals between the ages of 45 and 75 who have been identified to be at high risk of multiple myeloma and its precursor conditions:

  • African Americans, who are three times more likely than Caucasians to develop the myeloma precursor condition monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS), also known as smoldering myeloma;
  • People with a first-degree relative (a parent, sibling, or child) with a plasma cell disorder such as multiple myeloma.

Participants will complete an online health questionnaire, provide blood samples periodically for analysis, and submit updated health information periodically. Participants whose blood samples test positive for a myeloma precursor condition will be assisted in scheduling an appointment with a hematologist/oncologist. They will also be asked to submit health information and blood samples every 3-6 months and may be eligible for clinical trials exploring treatments to prevent progression. These samples will be analyzed for molecular signs indicating the risk of disease progression.

Initial participation in the trial is online or by mail. Local travel for blood draw is required. Testing will be performed at each participant’s local Quest Diagnostics laboratory. To sign up for the study, please visit

Members of the Dream Team include Timothy Rebbeck, PhD, of Dana-Farber; Ivan M. Borrello, MD, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; Joseph Mikhael, MD, of the Mayo Clinic Arizona; Jeremiah A. Johnson, PhD, of MIT; Lorelei Ann Mucci, MPH, DSc, of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; and Gad Getz, PhD and Viktor A. Adelsteinsson, PhD, of the Broad Institute.

Additional funding is provided by grants from the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, the Multiple Myeloma Research Consortium, Celgene, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and the National Institutes of Health. The Promise study has partnered with Quest Diagnostics, as the preferred provider for laboratory testing.

About Multiple Myeloma and Its Precursor Conditions (Source: IMF)

Multiple myeloma is cancer of the plasma cell, part of the blood that helps fight infection. These cancerous cells build up and eventually damage the body. Myeloma is the second most common blood cancer, with 30,000 patients diagnosed annually in the US. African Americans are two times as likely to be diagnosed with this blood cancer. Though there have been many advances in multiple myeloma treatment, it remains an incurable disease.

MGUS affects 1% of the general population aged 50 years or older and its incidence increases with age. MGUS is 3 times more common in African Americans and presents at younger age in this group.

Smoldering multiple myeloma (SMM) is a precancerous form of multiple myeloma that typically accounts for about 15% of newly diagnosed multiple myeloma cases. It is diagnosed when low levels of M protein are found in the blood and a slightly increased number of plasma cells are found in the bone marrow. Many patients with SMM are asymptomatic, but some experience modest symptoms, such as mild anemia or a few small bone lesions.


STAND UP TO CANCER (SU2C) raises funds to accelerate the pace of research to get new therapies to patients quickly and save lives now. SU2C was established in 2008 by media and entertainment leaders who utilize these communities’ resources to engage the public in supporting a new, collaborative model of cancer research, to increase awareness about cancer prevention, and to highlight progress being made in the fight against the disease. As of April 2018, more than 1,500 scientists representing more than 180 institutions are involved in SU2C-funded research projects.

Under the direction of our Scientific Advisory Committee, led by Nobel laureate Phillip A. Sharp, Ph.D., staff at SU2C and our Scientific Partner, the American Association for Cancer Research, SU2C operates rigorous competitive review processes to identify the best research proposals to recommend for funding, oversee grants administration, and ensure collaboration across research programs.

Current members of the SU2C Council of Founders and Advisors (CFA) include Katie Couric, Sherry Lansing, Kathleen Lobb, Lisa Paulsen, Rusty Robertson, Sue Schwartz, Pamela Oas Williams, and Ellen Ziffren. The late Laura Ziskin and the late Noreen Fraser are also co-founders. Sung Poblete, Ph.D., R.N., serves as SU2C’s president and CEO.

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