Story courtesy of the FDA
(CNN) — The rare “cancer gene” variant that may be linked to recent U.S. measles outbreaks — found to actually protect against the infection — has been classified as a minor gene change by the Food and Drug Administration.
FDA officials said on Friday the MALT gene — found in one in 4,000 people — can have an evolutionary advantage by helping develop antibodies that resist foreign invaders.
The agency “has determined that there is no special or significant risk that MMR vaccine(s) may be underused for the stated or anticipated long-term outcomes,” according to the FDA statement.
“Efforts continue to determine the impact of the MALT variant on future risks and benefits of MMR vaccine.”
CNN has been unable to determine how the gene variant, often described as a recessive trait, could be the cause of measles outbreaks that happened in some parts of the country, such as Washington, and not in other regions.
CNN iReporter Ariana Edwards, a senior at the University of Maine, heard about the FDA decision and has experienced herself a first-hand effect of the rare gene.
“I’m an Ashkenazi Jew. It’s not common in my community,” Edwards says. “I felt I was at a higher risk for having this gene because I was born in New York and at that time, a lot of diseases were clustered there and I could easily have been born into a case of that measles.”
A researcher in the field doesn’t buy it as an explanation for recent outbreaks. “There is evidence to suggest this did not cause the recent measles outbreaks,” said Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “Measles is a terrific (pseudogen) agent. It could have been co-evolved with that particular variant and … possibly was brought over by the person.
“I don’t buy this. … People will use this as a study in life time free passes.”
Though the FDA allows a role for genetic change, Schaffner said, some studies have shown that people get measles in their late teens and early 20s.
“My blood test suggests that I am not at risk. I don’t have the gene,” he said. “There are probably some pregnant women (who have it). That would not protect them from the disease.”
“There has been much more sustained benefit” from vaccines than feared, he added. “This gene matters in a very specific way. But it would have to be very, very highly expressed for this gene to be harmful to the mother.”
CDC advises people to take the vaccine in an early age if they’re still unsure. Despite the uncertainty, he said, “You don’t want to take a risk with your child.”
“We have to recognize that while there may be genetic underpinnings to this, it doesn’t mean measles kills you,” Schaffner said. “Vaccines give huge benefits.”