Leukemia

Leukemias are cancers of the blood and bone marrow. They are categorized by which type of blood cell they affect and how quickly they progress. Leukemia arises in the two main types of white blood cells: lymphoid and myeloid cells. Fast-growing leukemias are called acute leukemias. Slower-growing leukemias are called chronic leukemias.

Fred Hutch is a world leader in leukemia research. Our laboratory, clinical and public-health research is improving the way the disease is diagnosed and treated, and improving the quality of life of survivors. Fred Hutch pioneered bone marrow transplantation, one of the most significant advances in treating leukemia. Thanks to bone marrow transplant, cure rates for some forms of leukemia have risen from nearly zero to 90 percent. 

Our researchers continue to improve bone marrow and blood stem cell transplantation for leukemia, making these therapies more effective and safer. Informed by our studies of leukemia biology, our scientists working in the laboratory and the clinic are developing new leukemia-targeting drugs and drug combinations, as well as new tests to help guide treatment. And we carry out long-term studies to understand how survivors fare years after treatment and develop new ways to improve their health.
 

Bone marrow showing red blood cells and white blood cells (blue nucleus and pink cytoplasm)
Bone marrow showing red blood cells and white blood cells (blue nucleus and pink cytoplasm). Fred Hutch

Leukemia Research

Leukemia research at Fred Hutch encompasses every aspect of the disease’s biology and treatment in children and adults. It begins in the laboratory, where we are cracking the secrets of leukemia cells and developing potential new drugs and immunotherapies. It includes our world-renowned clinical research that studies new methods for treating and caring for leukemia patients. It extends throughout our patients' lifespan as we track survivors’ quality of life years and even decades after treatment.

Blood Stem Cell (Hematopoietic) Transplantation

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Fred Hutch scientists are improving blood stem cell transplantation to save the lives of more people with leukemia. Efforts include:

  • Learning the secrets of immune genetics to find better-matched donors for each patient 
  • Developing less toxic transplantation regimens
  • Developing newer forms of transplantation that can offer a patient a good chance of success even without a fully matched donor

All of these advances are informed by our research on the fundamental biology of blood-forming cells, the immune system and leukemia.

Immunotherapy

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Bone marrow transplantation provided the first definitive and reproducible example of the immune system's power to cure cancers like leukemia. Our researchers continue to lead the way in harnessing this power to treat patients with leukemia. 

A prime example is T-cell therapy. In this form of immunotherapy, a patient’s immune cells are genetically engineered to recognize and kill leukemia cells. We are also developing drugs that ramp up a patient’s natural immune response against leukemia. In addition, our scientists are developing new leukemia drugs based on antibodies — disease-targeting immune proteins. For example, we are leaders in radioimmunotherapy, in which a radioactive isotope is linked to a leukemia-targeting antibody.

Targeted Drug Therapies

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We are developing new drugs that exploit the weaknesses of leukemia biology to treat the disease. The goal of targeted drug therapies is to maximize the leukemia-killing effect while minimizing harm to healthy tissues.

An example of our impact is gemtuzumab ozogamicin, a drug for acute myeloid leukemia that steers a cell-killing toxin to cancer cells. The drug grew out of our fundamental laboratory research on leukemia biology. Also known as Mylotarg, the drug was the first so-called “magic bullet” drug on the market for any disease and the first new drug for acute myeloid leukemia brought to market in 15 years. 

Survivorship and Treatment Complications

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During and after treatment for leukemia, patients can experience numerous medical or psychosocial side effects. Fred Hutch scientists are developing supportive care for leukemia patients to protect them from treatment complications and improve their quality of life. They are also studying the long-term and late effects of leukemia treatment to improve the quality of life for survivors, even years after treatment. 

In particular, our scientists are world experts in the complications of blood stem-cell transplantation, including infections and graft-vs.-host disease. Our scientists are learning how these complications occur and developing better methods to prevent and treat them.

Diagnostics and Prognostics

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Fred Hutch scientists are developing better ways to diagnose leukemia, including low-cost methods that could be used around the world. They are also developing new tests for determining prognosis — the likely course of a patient’s leukemia. This information can help doctors choose the best treatment for each individual patient.

Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)

Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)

Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML)

Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML)

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)

Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL)

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)

Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)

Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)

In this cancer, the bone marrow makes abnormal myeloblasts (a type of white blood cell). This hinders the body’s production of normal cells, including infection-fighting white blood cells, oxygen-carrying red blood cells and clot-producing platelets. 

AML is also called acute myelogenous leukemia, acute myeloblastic leukemia, acute granulocytic leukemia, acute monoblastic leukemia and acute nonlymphocytic leukemia.

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML)

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML)

Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML)

Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML)

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)

Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML)

In this cancer, the bone marrow makes abnormal myeloblasts (a type of white blood cell). This hinders the body’s production of normal cells, including infection-fighting white blood cells, oxygen-carrying red blood cells and clot-producing platelets. 

AML is also called acute myelogenous leukemia, acute myeloblastic leukemia, acute granulocytic leukemia, acute monoblastic leukemia and acute nonlymphocytic leukemia.

Featured Program

Long-Term Follow-Up (LTFU)

The LTFU program provides lifelong monitoring and care of patients following a bone marrow or blood stem cell transplant. Our experts work in partnership with a patient’s personal doctor to resolve medical problems and to gather information for research. This information is used for patient education and to improve how doctors prevent and treat the long-term effects of transplantation.

Selected Leukemia Clinical Trials

Clinical research is an essential part of the scientific process that leads to new treatments and better care. Clinical trials can also be a way for patients to get early access to new cutting-edge therapies. Our clinical research teams are running clinical studies on various kinds of leukemia.

See All Leukemia Clinical Trials

Pancreatic Cancer Research

Hutch scientists are working to pinpoint the genetic factors that spur the development and progression of pancreatic cancer, including its high metastatic drive. As we uncover the disease’s biomarkers, we’re opening the door to earlier detection. We’re also discovering the unique properties that make these tumors so resistant to traditional forms of treatment. Our lab-based findings translate to clinical trials of promising new treatments — from targeted drugs to genetically modified immune-cell therapies.  

Targeting Tumor Defenses

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Fred Hutch researchers collaborate with colleagues around the country to understand the biological context of pancreatic tumors. Nearby immune cells, blood vessels and the tumors’ internal pressure can make it resistant to treatment. We’re developing new therapies that target the tumors’ defenses. In our sights: treatment strategies that combine cancer-killing drugs with new agents that disrupt the tumor’s supportive tissues or alter the anti-cancer immune response.

New Targets for Tailored Treatment

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A deeper understanding of the genetic changes found within various types of pancreatic cancer, and how these changes promote disease development and progression, could reveal new treatment targets. Our scientists are working to improve patient care by identifying specific tumor vulnerabilities and developing new therapies to better target them. 

We are also part of a nationwide effort that aims to deliver the promise of precision medicine to patients with pancreatic cancer. With collaborators across the country, Hutch investigators are testing a fluid new form of clinical trial in which pancreatic cancer patients receive the experimental treatment that researchers believe will best target their tumor. If needed, patients can later transition to other treatments that take aim at their tumor’s shifting biology. It’s a powerful way to put patients’ needs first while discovering the best way to combat pancreatic cancer.

Fred Hutch campus

Our Leukemia Researchers

Our interdisciplinary scientists and clinicians work together to prevent, diagnose and treat leukemia as well as other cancers and diseases.

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Seattle Cancer Care Alliance building

Patient Treatment & Care

Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, our clinical care partner, gives patients access to the comprehensive, world-class treatments developed at Fred Hutch.

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A Patient’s Story

Kristin Kleinhofer

Kristin Kleinhofer

Diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia in 2010, Kristin went through treatment that put her in remission. But her cancer returned a year and a half later, more stubborn than before. That’s when she picked the phrase “choose hope” as her mantra. Hope buoyed her and her family as they searched for new options. And hope was what brought her to Seattle to participate in two clinical trials for her cancer.