Did you know that there has not been a treatment approved for acute myeloid leukemia (AML) in over 40 years? Patients diagnosed with AML typically have a poor survivial prognosis and very limited treatment options. There are more than 10,000 deaths in the U.S. annually attributed to AML.
Currently, the only approved treatments for AML are toxic chemotherapy treatments. Often times chemotherapy does not work, and if it does, patients often relapse later on. Due to the lack of options for AML patients, many researchers are working hard to develop new treatments. Here I will outline some of the promising efforts and treatments that offer new hope to AML patients.
The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Beat AML Initiative
The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) is the largest voluntary health agency dedicated to fighting blood cancers. They have been funding AML research for over 66 years. Due to the significant unmet need for effective AML treatments, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society launched an attack on AML called the ‘Beat AML’ initiative in 2013. Since then, they have been funding research and development of promising new treatments. In 2015, 26% of their annual research budget went towards AML. You can read more about the Beat AML initiative here.
Normal human cells grow and develop based on the genetic information contained in their chromosomes. Each chromosome contains long strands of DNA; and different sections of DNA make up genes, which act as the blueprints of the cell.
Certain genes are responsible for regulating the growth and division of the cell, and others initiate cell death when a cell has been damaged beyond repair. The genes that control the growth and division of the cell are called oncogenes. Tumor suppressor genes are responsible for slowing down cell division or causing a cell to die. The delicate balance of oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes is needed to regulate healthy cell growth and development.
Cancer occurs when a mutation (change) occurs that turn on oncogenes or turn off tumor suppressor genes. When one of these genes are mutated, it leads to the uncontrolled growth of cells and the development of AML. Many different genetic mutations cause AML and some have a better survival prognosis than others.
Unlike chemotherapy which destroys all cells, targeted therapies work by treating the genetic mutation that caused the cancer in the first place. This leads to the destruction of cancer cells, while protecting healthy cells. Targeted therapies are in the forefront of AML research, with many targeted therapies being developed for different genetic mutations. Many of these drugs are currently going through clinical trials. You can visit clinical trials.gov to search for current clinical trials that are in progress.