Diseases / Research

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

The is an H&E stained section of a bone marrow particle with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. The malignant cells are the prominent population of cells with irregularly clumped chromatin in the nuclei giving the cells an appearance similar to a soccer ball. Almost all of the cells in this image are the malignant small and mature lymphocytes with a high nuclear to cytoplasmic ratio.

Photo by Keith Loeb, PhD, and Sindhu Cherian, MD, SCCA Department of Pathology

Fred Hutch researchers developed bone marrow and stem cell transplantation procedures that played a key role in boosting the five-year survival rates for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) from 14 percent in the 1960s to nearly 75 percent today.

Researchers continue to improve transplant regimens to include lower-intensity radiation to improve the effectiveness of treatment and and tageted radioimmunotherapy that will limit damage to the diseased cells.

Fast Facts

  • CLL is the second most common form of leukemia in adults and rarely occurs in children. More than half of people diagnosed with CLL are older than 70, and cases rarely occur in individuals younger than 40.

  • Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) occurs when the bone marrow makes too many abnormal white blood cells, or lymphocytes, that never become healthy, infection-fighting cells.

  • As the number of these abnormal lymphocytes increases, they interfere with the production of other important blood cells, leading to multiple complications, including infection, easy bleeding and swollen lymph nodes.

  • CLL usually gets worse slowly.

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Treatment & Prognosis

Pioneering bone marrow transplantation – Led by Nobel Prize recipient Dr. E. Donnall Thomas, Fred Hutch researchers have transformed bone marrow transplantation into standard treatment for leukemia and other blood cancers. The procedure is widely recognized as one of the greatest achievements in cancer treatment and has saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of patients. Learn more >

Making transplantation less toxic – Dr. David Maloney has been leading clinical trials that investigate how combining lower-intensity radiation conditioning with an infusion of donated stem cells can effectively treat CLL patients.

Developing targeted therapies – Dr. John Pagel has been investigating a treatment technique called radioimmunotherapy, which uses an antibody—known by the trade name Bexxar—to deliver a small, targeted dose of radiation to CLL cells. Because the antibody is able to bind to an antigen associated specifically with the cancer, this technique limits damage to the surrounding normal, healthy tissues.

Investigating new drug combinations – Clinical trials led by Dr. Pagel are evaluating the safety and effectiveness of Bexxar in combination with more traditional chemotherapy, including Rituximab, another antibody-based drug developed thanks to pioneering work from Hutch researchers

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