University of Iowa-Led Research Connects Sleep Apnea and Deadly Blood Cancer

University of Iowa researchers, supported by a team including Washington University and University of Colorado, have discovered a link between sleep apnea and the deadly blood cancer—multiple myeloma—that could lead to earlier and more effective treatment of the disease, reports Lee Hermiston of Iowa Now. In preclinical mice research, postdoctoral researcher Mahmoud Ali noted the findings provide a better understanding of how sleep apnea may drive the blood cancer. Titled “Chronic Intermittent Hypoxia Enhances Disease Progression in Myeloma resistant Mice” the University of Iowa study was published in the American Journal of Physiology, Integrative and Comparative Physiology in March. The American Cancer Society funded the study administered by the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center. 

The research team examined how gene mutations and sleep apnea cooperate to drive the cancer by using specially bred laboratory mice that are resistant to multiple myeloma. First, injecting the mice with the malignant mouse multiple myeloma cells, they then were exposed to an environment stimulating the effects of sleep apnea. Nearly 70% of the myeloma-resistant mice developed the disease after being exposed to the sleep apnea conditions. Moreover, the cancer cells were primarily found in the bone marrow of the mice exposed to the sleep apnea. Multiple myeloma weakens bones in humans and those with the disease are afflicted by bone pain and fractures.

Principal investigator Melissa Bates, assistant professor of health and human physiology, noted that previous research has shown a link between obesity and multiple myeloma. Moreover sleep apnea has been associated with increased risk of cancer death.  She observed that this was the first study to explore the link between sleep apnea and the blood cancer.

Lead Research/Investigator

Melissa Bates 

Mahmoud Ali