Last week it was reported that legendary author and film-maker Nora Ephron had died of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) at the age of 71.
Ephron, who penned such classics as “When Harry Met Sally”, “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail”, had initially been diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) several years ago, which developed into AML.
This tragic news highlights a blood cancer which, despite advances in treatment, will still kill the majority diagnosed with it. There are around 2,200 new cases of AML in the UK each year and most of these patients will be over 60 years old. Younger patients have a higher cure rate, but older patients are often unable to tolerate the gruelling treatment needed to make a life-saving stem cell transplant a success.
AML is characterised by the uncontrollable spread of abnormal white blood cells called myeloid cells. These never mature into proper white blood cells, vital to a healthy immune system, increasing the risk of fatal infections. Ms Ephron eventually died after her depleted immune system was unable to fight off pneumonia.
Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research currently has £13 million invested in 35 projects across the UK to find new treatments for AML.
Treating older patients with AML who have relapsed is very difficult as they cannot tolerate continuous rounds of chemotherapy. Our charity is funding a new clinical trial opening this year testing a combination of drugs called 5-azacitidine and vorinostat. Part of the Trials Acceleration Programme, doctors hope to help extend the lives of those AML patients who have run out of treatment options.
Another of the charity’s trials is speeding up the assessment of new treatments for AML patients. The ‘Pick a Winner’ trial in Cardiff is comparing one of three drugs, Sapacitibine, Voreloxin, or low dose Ara-C + AC220, to standard palliative treatments currently offered to older patients not eligible for intensive treatment. As well as establishing the best treatment, the trial is assessing the relative impact of these treatments on the quality of life of older patients.
Through trials such as these, along with laboratory research, Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research is leading the way in the international effort to make death from AML a thing of the past. Tragically there is still a long way to go and many people are still loosing their lives to this aggressive blood cancer.