Better Treatments for an Aggressive Form of Leukemia on the Horizon

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Jill Chadwick

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For the last 40 years, doctors have treated patients with acute myeloid leukemia, or AML, with a few chemotherapy drugs. Only 25 percent of them survive for five years. Developing effective, targeted AML therapies has proved challenging because AML is not a single disease, but a disease of many types with gene mutations and chromosome abnormalities that vary patient to patient. Now, researchers at the University of Kansas Cancer Center and ten other academic medical centers have brought computers and artificial intelligence into the mix to come up with a treatment unique for each patient.

 After more than five years and 672 patient samples, researchers have published the largest cancer dataset of its kind for a form of leukemia. The study, titled “Functional Genomic Landscape of Acute Myeloid Leukemia”, was published in Nature. The study is part of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Beat AML initiative, a large-scale collaboration launched in 2013 that brings together academic medical centers with large AML programs, patients and pharmaceutical companies to analyze the genomic causes of AML and identify new treatment options.

The long-term goal of Beat AML is to develop personalized treatments for each patient with AML based on their disease biology and specific mutation pattern. The next phase of the project, called the Beat AML Master Trial, is a clinical trial for patients who have been recently diagnosed with AML. KU Cancer Center will be one of the sites treating patients.

In the video, Scott Weir, PharmD, PhD, director of the University of Kansas Medical Center’s Institute for Advancing Medical Innovation talks about the goal of this first phase of the Beat AML initiative, which is to better understand the drivers for AML. He says that helps doctors figure out the best treatment for each individual patient.

 Also in the video, Tara Lin, MD, director of KU Cancer Center’s Acute Leukemia Program and medical director of the Clinical Trials Office. She says, “This is an entirely new way of treating this disease. We are not treating a patient the same way we’ve done before, instead we are looking at each individual, and their specific disease characteristics, and tailoring a treatment exactly for them.”

The video also has b-roll of the researchers in the lab.