A major form of leukaemia is now known to be 11 different diseases

New research reveals that there are 11 types of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), a virulent form of blood cancer. The paper was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The authors, at the Sanger Institute in Cambridgeshire, say that their work could lead to personalised and more effective treatment.

This could mean that thousands of patients don’t need to have unnecessary chemotherapy, and suffer from its debilitating side effects.

The study involved blood and bone marrow samples from 1,540 patients. Researchers analysed 111 leukaemia-related genes and compared how these genes mutated with the progression of the cancer.

The researchers are trying to repeat the process for breast cancer, and they hope to publish their findings by the end of this year.

Professor Peter Campbell, the study’s lead author, said: ‘We expect the way patients are classified will change pretty quickly on the basis of this and other studies.

‘One of the most amazing things is that when the patient is sitting in front of you in the clinic we will be able to say there’s a very high chance of being cured with current treatments, or you’ve got a very low chance of being cured with current treatments and therefore we should consider these more experimental or intensive therapies.’

Nearly 3,000 people are diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia every year. The condition is most common in those aged over 65.

A recent US study found that personalised treatment is six times more effective at treating cancer, and that it could enable patients to live twice as long before cancer returned.

Instant analysis
The study identifies how aspects of certain groups of leukaemias can affect course, progression and prognosis of the disease as well as its potential response to treatment options. More work will need to be done as to how this can inform treatment choices, as this cannot be assumed at this stage, but it certainly is promising.
MB
Research score: 4/5