Bloodwise has warmly welcomed new research taking patients with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) a step closer to personalised treatment.
The research, from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, reveals how the genetic profile of AML influences the way the disease develops, its severity, and the way patients respond to treatment. Published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the findings offer important implications for the way AML is diagnosed and treated.
Researchers studied 1,540 AML patients enrolled in clinical trials, analysing more than 100 genes thought to be important in the disease. The researchers found certain faulty genes were more frequent than others but despite common themes, most patients had a unique combination of genetic changes driving their leukaemia. This led them to conclude that AML actually refers to at least 11 different types of leukaemia and this shaped the outlook for these patients.
This genetic complexity helps explain why survival rates for AML vary so much. For years, doctors have struggled to understand why some AML patients make a full recovery, while many others who are given the same treatment, do not.
Dr Matt Kaiser, Head of Research at Bloodwise, said: “This is good news for patients. Accurately determining how the precise subtype of leukaemia affects the outlook for patients will allow scientists to develop urgently needed new treatments that are targeted at the specific genetic faults that drive this cancer. This more tailored and more targeted approach will, we hope, not only lead to far fewer life-threatening side effects on healthy cells than traditional treatment, but will also have a much greater chance of success.
“Survival rates for this highly aggressive type of leukaemia are still desperately low, with the best chance of a cure still involving highly toxic chemotherapy that has changed little over the past 50 years or a gruelling stem cell transplant. Many patients will be too elderly or weak to cope with the associated harsh side effects and they currently have very few effective treatment options available to them.”
Dr Peter Campbell, co-leader of the study, said: “This is our first detailed look at how the genetic complexity of a cancer impacts on its clinical outcomes. Two people may have what looks like the same leukaemia down the microscope, but we find extensive differences between those leukaemias at the genetic level. These genetic differences can explain so much of why one of those patients will be cured, while the other will not, despite receiving the exact same treatment.
“We have shown that AML is an umbrella term for a group of at least 11 different types of leukaemia. We can now start to decode these genetics to shape clinical trials and develop diagnostics.”
The next steps will be to perform similar analyses on clinical trials involving elderly patients and to design new clinical trials to test the best treatments for each AML subtype.
Bloodwise currently has £22.2 million invested in 51 different AML projects.
Read more about our AML research and research into other types of blood cancer here >