Major blood cancer is 11 distinct diseases

Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) is a common type of blood cancer affecting 3,000 new patients per year in the UK. It is often very aggressive, especially in older populations, with a 5 year survival rate of 20%. Treatment involves chemotherapy and stem cell transplantation, however it is very difficult to know which patients will respond well and which may not. In a new study by Dr Peter Campbell from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and Dr Elli Papaemmanuil, who co-authored the study, have shown that AML is in fact 11 different diseases and that identifying patients according to this new sub classification can have a far more reliable prediction of treatment outcomes.

The study looked at the genetic makeup of the disease in samples from over 1,500 patients with AML. After detailed genetic analysis they found that AML could be subdivided into 11 distinct diseases, each with their own set of genetic changes and specific clinical symptoms. Using this information doctors will be able to better identify those patients most likely to respond well to current treatment and those who  may be at higher risk of relapse.

Dr Elli Papaemmanuil believes that “by understanding these paths we can help develop more appropriate treatments for individual patients with AML."

Co-author, Dr Campbell said he hoped this technique would "filter into clinics" over the next few years as more centres develop their diagnostic resources.

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