Myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN) and myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) are a group of rare blood cancers that are not well known by the general public, but that together are diagnosed in more than 5,000 people in the UK every year. Many more people live with these conditions without being diagnosed.
We have a diverse portfolio of research that is advancing our understanding of MPN and MDS, that could lead to new treatments and improve the way people with these types of blood cancer are cared for.
Myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN)
Myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPN) - also called myeloproliferative disorders – are diagnosed in over 3,000 people in the UK per year. MPNs includes: polycythaemia vera (PV), essential thrombocythaemia (ET) and myelofibrosis (MF). The three MPNs are distinct blood cancers, but they have one feature in common – they affect the levels of blood cells found in the body.
People with PV produce too many red blood cells, causing the blood to become thicker than normal. ET occurs when there are too many platelets in the blood, which can cause the blood to clot. People with MF have an overactive bone marrow, which develops scar tissue (known as fibrosis). The scar tissue builds up inside the bone marrow and blood cells can’t develop properly causing other complications including anaemia.
MPN usually develops slowly over a number of years, but in some people they can change into acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). Most people diagnosed are over 60, and many have other health problems which can make treatment more difficult. The aim of treatment is usually to control symptoms rather than cure the condition.
People can be given aspirin, which helps reduce the risk of blood clots; a mild chemotherapy called hydroxycarbamide that stops cancer cells making and repairing DNA; or interferon or anagrelide – both slow down the production of platelets. Many people with MPN have changes in the JAK2 and CALR genes, and drugs that target these changes, such as ruxolitinib, have also been successful.
Although research has come a long way, MPN is extremely complex - both in biology and genetics. Our researchers are trying to gain a better understanding MPNs so we can improve diagnosis, develop better tools that predict outcome, and design new treatments.
Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS)
Over 2,000 people are diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) every year in the UK.
In MDS, the bone marrow is usually more active than normal, but the cells it produces are not healthy and many die either before they reach the bloodstream or shortly afterwards. This results in the number of blood cells in the bloodstream being reduced, or the circulating cells in the blood do not work as well as they should. MDS varies between people - some have just one type of blood cell that is low, and in others, all types of blood cells are affected.
In addition to low blood counts, MDS can develop into acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) over time. The risk of this occurring depends on the type of MDS, and some people with early forms of the disease may never progress to AML.
Treatment options for MDS can vary – some people may just need treatment to control their symptoms, but others may need high-intensity treatment such as a stem cell transplant.
The cause of MDS remains largely unknown.
Our research is looking at how MDS develops, and why some people with MDS go on to develop AML. We are also researching more into rare inherited forms of MDS, and have a trial that is looking at improving the way we treat people living with MDS.