Breakthrough for Blood Cancer Treatment

blood-cellsA new study of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) offers the potential for developing individualised treatment plans to improve patient outcomes.


Acute myeloid leukaemia develops when the bone marrow’s stem cells produce too many immature white blood cells, which are called blast cells. Unfortunately, high production of blast cells can lead to decreased production of red blood cells and platelets. Unlike mature white blood cells, blast cells are unable to fight infections. Scientists are unsure about what causes AML. Global mortality rates are high for this rare cancer, with many anxiously awaiting a cure.


The scientists combined genetic analysis with patient health information to understand the causes of the disease. The researchers identified 5234 driver mutations, involving 76 genes or regions in 1540 patients, within three prospective trials of intensive therapy. Joint first author of the research paper, Dr Elli Papaemmanuil from the Sanger Institute and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre in New York, reveals that the study is the ‘first time’ researchers have ‘untangled the genetic complexity seen in most AML cancer genomes into distinct evolutionary paths that lead to AML’.


Until now, the medical profession has been unable to explain why some individuals respond better to treatment for AML than others. The scientists of the study have finally identified why this is the case. The co-leader of the Study, Dr Peter Campbell from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, states that acute myeloid leukaemia, rather than a diagnosis of a specific disease, is now an ‘umbrella term’ for multiple types of blood cancer. The research, published in New England Journal of Medicine, discovered that acute myeloid leukaemia is in fact at least 11 diseases, which each have ‘distinct diagnostic features and clinical outcomes’. The researchers believe that the previously unknown genetic variations of AML are responsible for the apparent clinical variability in patient outcomes.


Understanding the structure of the diseases allows for scientists to create trials featuring targeted drug treatment plans for specific patient subsets. As a result of the scientists’ landmark study, personalised treatment for more effective treatment of cancer can now become a reality in our hospitals. The researchers are now planning to expand their research to include other types of Leukaemia. Trailblazing the development of future cancer treatment, the scientists plan to expand their research to include other types of Leukaemia. The study proves that, one step at a time, humanity is moving closer to finally beating cancer. 

Acute Myeloid Leukaemia 


  • Aggressive cancer of the myeloid cells
  • 2,942 people diagnosed each year in the UK.
  • Most common in 65+ age group
  • Symptoms include: pale skin, tiredness, breathlessness, frequent infections and/or unusual and frequent bleeding (e.g. nosebleeds)
  • Prognosis: Almost 50% of diagnosed under 60s will live for at least five years
  • Progresses rapidly and usually requires immediate treatment
  • Chemotherapy main treatment, but sometimes also requires combination of intensive chemotherapy, radiotherapy and a bone marrow or stem cell transplant
  • General outlook for children with acute myeloid leukaemia is better than for adults 


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