Scientists are discovering more about acute myeloid leukemia (AML) all the time – and patient advocacy groups use World AML Awareness Day to build on that momentum. The aggressive blood cancer, which is caused by genetic mutations resulting in abnormal blood cells, usually leads to death within five years of diagnosis.
Despite advances in technology allowing the scientific community to learn more about the disease and possible ways to fight it, AML remains the most common type of leukemia in adults.
“Nearly 40,000 people are diagnosed with AML in the US and Europe each year, and for those patients, outcomes are typically poor,” says a spokesman for the MDS Foundation, which works with the global AML community under the Know AML banner to mark the day of action on April 21.
“Despite dramatic advances in other blood cancers, AML has not seen a change in the standard of therapy in the past 40 years and new treatment options are desperately needed.”1
Recent work, such as the assembly of a detailed atlas of bone marrow cells from AML patients2, have offered promising hopes for future treatments.
Machine learning offers new AML insights
As co-lead author of the study, Dr. Volker Hovestadt, of Massachusetts General Hospital Pathology and the Center for Cancer Research, points out: “We used new technologies and machine learning to characterize almost 40,000 single cells from the bone marrow of AML patients and healthy volunteers. “This approach is providing comprehensive insight into the different types of cancer cells and how they contribute to disease progression.”
Dr. Peter van Galen, fellow co-lead author, explains that AML is characterized by the accumulation of abnormal white blood cells in the bone marrow and blood. “It has been known for decades that the disease comprises a variety of cell types that resemble normal developmental stages of blood cells,” he points out, adding that the study reveals the specific tumor cell types that resemble normal white blood cell development.
The study also discovered cells not previously thought to contribute to the progression of the cancer could, in fact, suppress the immune system’s anti-tumor response. “It is now clearer that genetic mutations can drive different cancer cell types that need to be specifically targeted with precision therapies, so our findings can guide personalized therapies to eradicate AML cells,” says Dr van Galen.
Global awareness initiative
In the meantime, it’s important to raise awareness of the plight of the families affected by AML right now, according to the team behind World AML Awareness Day.
A spokesman for Know AML, the first global awareness collective of patient leaders, professional representatives and industry supporters, notes: “We encourage the AML community and the general public to participate in the official Know AML coordinated activities pre-, during and post-AML World Awareness Day.
“We appreciate that everyone supporting AML World Awareness Day has different needs and priorities, so we have a selection of ways in which you can be involved and help mark the day.”3
The group suggested supporters add a #KnowAML banner to their social media profile or share a selfie of themselves wearing a Know AML pin badge. Other options included wearing red and black clothes for the day or sharing the organization’s series of social media graphics and animations.
- AML Awareness Day. (2018, April 21). Retrieved from https://www.mds-foundation.org/event/aml-awareness-day-3/
- Atlas of acute myeloid leukemia cell types may lead to improved, targeted therapies. (2019, February 28). Retrieved from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-02/mgh-aoa022619.php
- Get involved. (n.d). Retrieved from https://know-aml.com/en/get-involved