Public Release:  BWH researchers discover genetic risk for uterine fibroids

Brigham and Women's Hospital

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IMAGE: Cynthia Morton has a Ph.D. view more

Credit: Brigham and Women's Hospital

BOSTON, MA--Uterine fibroids are the most common type of pelvic tumors in women and are the leading cause of hysterectomy in the United States. Researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) are the first to discover a genetic risk allele (an alternative form of a gene) for uterine fibroids in white women using an unbiased, genome-wide approach. This discovery will pave the way for new screening strategies and treatments for uterine fibroids.

The study will be published online on October 4, 2012 in The American Journal of Human Genetics.

The research team, led by Cynthia Morton, PhD, BWH director of the Center for Uterine Fibroids and senior study author, analyzed genetic data from over 7,000 white women. The researchers detected genetic variants that are significantly associated with uterine fibroid status in a span of three genes including FASN which encodes a protein called FAS (fatty acid synthase).

Moreover, additional studies revealed that FAS protein expression was three times higher in uterine fibroid samples compared to normal myometrial tissue (muscle tissue that forms the uterine wall). Over-expression of FAS protein is found in various types of tumors and is thought to be important for tumor cell survival.

"Our discovery foretells a path to personalized medicine for women who have a genetic basis for development of uterine fibroids," said Morton. "Identification of genetic risk factors may provide valuable insight into medical management."

Study samples used were from various cohort studies, such as the Finding Genes for Fibroids study and the Women's Genome Health Study at BWH.

Uterine fibroids may lead to abnormal vaginal bleeding, infertility, pelvic pain and pregnancy complications. Uterine fibroids are found in more than 75 percent of women of reproductive age.

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This research was supported by the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (HD046226 and HD060530); National Institutes of Health (CA047988, HL043851, HL080467, HL099355, AA07535, AA07728, AA13320, AA13321, AA14041, AA11998, AA17688, DA012854 and DA019951); Australian National Health and Medical Research Council; 5th Framework Programme GenomEUtwin Project; Wellcome Trust; Cooperative Research Centre for Discovery of Genes for Common Human Diseases, Cerylid Biosciences (Melbourne); and National Health and Medical Research Council Fellowship Scheme.

Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) is a 793-bed nonprofit teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School and a founding member of Partners HealthCare. BWH has more than 3.5 million annual patient visits, is the largest birthing center in New England and employs nearly 15,000 people. The Brigham's medical preeminence dates back to 1832, and today that rich history in clinical care is coupled with its national leadership in patient care, quality improvement and patient safety initiatives, and its dedication to research, innovation, community engagement and educating and training the next generation of health care professionals. Through investigation and discovery conducted at its Biomedical Research Institute (BRI), BWH is an international leader in basic, clinical and translational research on human diseases, involving nearly 1,000 physician-investigators and renowned biomedical scientists and faculty supported by nearly $625 million in funding. BWH continually pushes the boundaries of medicine, including building on its legacy in organ transplantation by performing the first face transplants in the U.S. in 2011. BWH is also home to major landmark epidemiologic population studies, including the Nurses' and Physicians' Health Studies, OurGenes and the Women's Health Initiative. For more information and resources, please visit BWH's online newsroom.

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