Multiple Myeloma - Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

Diseases / Research

Multiple Myeloma

Multiple Myeloma cells

Multiple myeloma (blue cells) within bone marrow.

Photo by Fred Hutch

Fred Hutch is at the forefront of developing treatments for multiple myeloma, a cancer that strikes plasma cells inside bone marrow.  Hutch researchers pioneered the mini-transplant reducing the amount of radiation to a minimal dose.  Mini-transplant is ideal for older patients or those who might not be able to withstand conventional transplants. 

Our researchers are also working to reduce the occurrence of relapse by "maintenance therapy" after the transplant using biological modifiers, immune stimulators and chemotherapy.

Our Key Research

Fast Facts

  • Multiple myeloma is a relatively uncommon cancer that occurs when the body creates too many abnormal plasma cells, also known as myelomas. Plasma cells, a type of white blood cell that lives in bone marrow, help the immune system fight disease by making antibodies that counteract infections.

  • Multiple myeloma primarily strikes elderly patients, with more than two-thirds of diagnoses belonging to people older than 65. The disease is also more common in African Americans.

  • Bone pain, anemia, fatigue and more frequent infections are traits of multiple myeloma.

  • Once deadly, multiple myeloma has become more manageable through innovative new therapies.

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Treatment & Prognosis

Hematopoietic Transplantation – Hematopoietic transplantation, or transplantation with blood stem cells that can replace a patients’ oxygen-carrying and infection-fighting blood cells, has become an option for many people diagnosed with various blood disorders. Today, thousands of patients with blood cancers around the world are cured every year thanks to modern forms of transplantation. Patients with multiple myeloma are most often transplanted with their own blood stem cells in a procedure known as autologous transplantation. Blood stem cell transplantation, most often using stem cells from a donor, is also used for dozens of other diseases, with many more in the research pipeline. Learn more

Cord Blood Transplantation – Thousands of patients cannot find a genetically matched adult donor. Umbilical cord blood offers a source of donor cells that do not need to be as stringently matched as adult cells, expanding the number of potential recipients for each unit. Research led by Dr. Colleen Delaney resulted in the development of a technique that significantly expands the number of stem cells in each cord blood donation and making cells available for use as a bridge therapy of infection-fighting cells to improve patients’ transplant survival and reduce infection risk during chemotherapy. Cord blood offers many other benefits and can be easily collected and stored. It also carries a lower risk of viral transmission or a serious complication known as graft-versus-host disease. Importantly, outcomes for patients undergoing a cord blood transplant have improved dramatically over the last decade. Learn more >

Making transplants less toxic – Dr. Rainer Storb and colleagues pioneered the development of a radically different approach to bone marrow transplantation that does not wipe out bone marrow and involves minimal doses of radiation. This non-myeloablative stem cell transplant, or "mini" transplant, is ideal for older patients or those who might not be able to withstand conventional transplants. The procedure does not cause patients to lose their hair or experience severe nausea or other side effects, and can typically be performed without a hospital stay. Learn more >

Targeted radiation selectively kills cancer cells - Conventional radioimmunotherapy uses antibodies directly linked to radioactive molecules to deliver killing radiation specifically to cancer cells. Drs. Damian Green and Oliver Press have tailored a new technique to treat myeloma, called pretargeted radioimmunotherapy, which reduces even more the radiation exposure to normal tissue while increasing the dose delivered to cancer cells. In a preclinical model, their novel therapy completely eradicated the tumors without injuring healthy tissue. Dr. Green is now improving this approach by attaching a new radioactive molecule — 1,000 times more potent yet less damaging to healthy tissue — and has made it his priority to bring this therapy to patient trials. Learn more >

Immunotherapy - T cells are immune cells that can be engineered to recognize and destroy tumors while sparing healthy tissue. Dr. Stanley Riddell and his team are developing a specialized molecule, known as a chimeric antigen receptor or CAR, which can guide engineered T cells to eliminate myeloma tumors. Dr. Riddell has used a different CAR to great effect against other blood cancers, and our researchers are working to take this novel T-cell therapy from the laboratory to the myeloma clinic. Learn more >  

Reprogramming CD8 T cells – Directed activation of the immune system has become a more common option for cancer treatment. Cytotoxic CD8 T cells are activated to target and destroy cancer cells. Fred Hutch researcher Dr. Zandra Klippel and colleagues in Dr. Edus “Hootie” Warren’s lab reprogrammed CD8 T cells from multiple myeloma patients with a T-cell receptor specific to the antigen NY-ESO-1, an antigen that has shown great promise in preclinical studies and early stage clinical trials. In their studies, the reprogrammed T cells effectively recognized and destroyed multiple myeloma cells. Learn more >


Treatment / Transplant Webcasts

Dr. Rainer Storb discusses non-myeloablative 'mini' transplants, a mid transplant that is revolutionizing the way patients think of high-risk transplant procedures.  Listen to a Webcast with Dr. Storb >

Dr. Paul O'Donnell discusses alternative donor programs available at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. Listen to a Webcast with Dr. O'Donnell >

Dr Leona Holmberg discusses the latest breakthroughs and research on bone marrow transplants. Listen to a Webcast with Dr. Holmberg >

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Improving Survival

Coping with post-transplant issues – Fred Hutch researchers presented on the latest findings and recommendations for transplant survivors at the 2015 Bone Marrow Transplant Patient Reunion. Topics included active survivorship, making the most of your brain power after chemo, nutrition, sexuality and other post-transplant issues. Learn more >

Reducing complications after transplant – Although the outcomes for hematopoietic cell transplants have improved, graft-versus-host-disease and relapse remain the main causes of death. GVHD occurs when transplanted donor immune cells recognize recipient cells as foreign and attack them. Risk of GVHD can be lowered with immunosuppressive drugs. Dr. Brian Kornblit in the laboratory of Dr. Brenda Sandmaier has been testing new combinations of drugs. A randomized phase 3 trial is planned. Learn more >

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