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Promising New Findings from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

February 19, 2015

As a hematologist, I am very involved in the treatment of leukemia and lymphomas. Both of these conditions are potentially life threatening, but amazing advances have come about in recent years that now make some of these conditions curable or controllable.

Still, we are years away from curing them all. As an organization, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), which is focused on fighting blood-related cancers, has been at the forefront of helping to develop new therapies.

Within recent months, the organization and several other researchers have made significant progress in understanding and treating leukemia and lymphoma. For patients battling these conditions, there’s a lot about which to be hopeful.

Advances in blood cancer research

In January, for example, Dr. Benjamin Ebert and a team of LLS-funded researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston conducted a study in which they identified gene mutations that could increase a person’s risk of developing blood cancer. The team found that there were three key genes responsible for this, and that these mutations become more common with age. The study could open up several possibilities for how we prevent blood cancer in potentially high-risk patients, give us a better understanding of how blood cancer develops and how it is linked to other age-related diseases.

While prevention will be critical in the fight against leukemia and lymphoma, we’re also making significant headway with drug therapies. The FDA recently approved blinatumomab, an anti-cancer drug that helps the body’s immune system attack tumor cells. Blinatumomab is the first major treatment advancement in more than 20 years for patients who have a rapidly growing cancer in which their bone marrow produces too many of a specific kind of white blood cell. To date, these patients have had a poor prognosis and few treatment options, but this new drug could help to prolong or save more lives. LLS is funding research to advance similar immunotherapies, and this approach could be effective for other types of cancer, as well.

LLS also is funding several projects to better understand or stop the progression of other blood cancers. It recently announced a new program to fund $1.7 million in research projects for combatting early-stage myeloid blood cancers before they progress to the more serious acute myeloid leukemia (AML). The research will focus on identifying the molecular drivers that cause progression to AML and developing treatment strategies that can halt the disease. Because the five-year survival rate for AML is less than 25 percent, any advances we can make to stop early-stage diseases before they progress to AML will be a tremendous win for patients.

Contributions make a difference

LLS has done so much more in recent years. On a personal level, the organization has been instrumental in helping some of my patients with limited resources get the life-saving therapy they need. I cannot express my gratitude for LLS in enough words in this brief blog.

Organizations like LLS cannot do what they do without contributions. I’ve personally been involved in some of the organization’s fundraising efforts and have created a fundraising webpage to rally support for its programs and research projects. LLS has a mission to help blood cancer patients live longer and better lives, and it already has made significant progress in this regard. But its work will continue, and so will the work of millions of doctors like myself who fight day in and day out to combat this disease. We get closer every day to diminishing the impact of blood-related cancers, but we won’t stop until we discover more ways to control and ultimately cure these diseases.

 

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