Leukemia--Acute Myeloid (Myelogenous) Overview

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What`s New in Leukemia - Acute Myeloid (AML) Research? TOPICS

What`s new in acute myeloid leukemia research?

Research into the causes, diagnosis, and treatment of leukemia is going on at many medical centers, hospitals, and other places.

Genetics of leukemia

Scientists are making great progress in learning how changes in a person's DNA can cause normal bone marrow cells to change into leukemia cells. Doctors are now learning how to use these changes to help them predict a person's outlook and figure out whether they need more or less intense treatment. In the future, this information may be used to come up with an approach that uses newer targeted treatments against acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

A new lab technique is being studied to help find and classify different cancers, too. Instead of looking at single genes, this test uses a special method to look at the patterns of many different genes in the cancer cells at the same time. This may add to the information that comes from the lab tests now in use.

Finding "hidden" disease (minimal residual disease)

Progress has also been made in finding leukemia cells after treatment, when there are so few leukemia cells that they cannot be found by routine bone marrow tests. A test called PCR (polymerase chain reaction) can find one cancer cell among a million normal cells. This is helpful in seeing how well the chemo has destroyed the leukemia cells and whether it is likely that the cancer will come back (relapse). Doctors are also trying to figure out what effect hidden disease has on a patient's outlook, and how this might affect the need for more treatment.

Better chemo

Studies are going on to find the best combination of chemo drugs, with fewer side effects, and to figure out which patients will benefit the most from different types of treatment. Studies of newer chemo drugs now used to treat other cancers are being done to see if they will work for AML.

Sometimes chemo may not work very well because the leukemia cells become resistant to it. Researchers are now looking at ways to prevent or reverse this resistance by using other drugs along with chemo.

Stem cell transplants

Studies are also being done to improve the stem cell transplant process and to predict which patients are most likely to be helped by this treatment. Many studies are also trying to help figure exactly which type of transplants might be best.

Targeted therapies

New targeted drugs that attack some of the genetic changes seen in AML are now being developed.


Monoclonal antibodies are man-made versions of immune system proteins (antibodies) that are designed to attach to certain targets, such as substances on the surface of leukemia cells. Some of these antibodies have radioactive chemicals or cell poisons attached to them so that when they are injected into the patient, they lock onto the cancer cells and kill them. One such antibody (gemtuzumab ozogamicin or Mylotarg®) was at one time was approved by the FDA to treat AML in older patients. Although it was taken off the market because it didn’t seem very helpful, it is showing promise in certain patients in clinical trials.

Vaccine therapy: A study of an experimental vaccine had promising results. For this vaccine, white blood cells (cells of the immune system) are removed from the patient's blood and exposed to a protein found on many AML cells. These cells are then given back to the patient into a vein (IV). In the body, the cells cause other immune system cells to attack the patient's leukemia.

Last Medical Review: 06/27/2013
Last Revised: 02/07/2014