Myelodysplastic Syndrome - Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

Diseases / Research

Myelodysplastic Syndrome

Fred Hutch experts are also developing innovative ways to detect and diagnose myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), are unraveling how MDS progresses to acute myeloid leukemia (AML), and are conducting clinical trials that could lead to new treatments.

Fast Facts

  • Myelodysplastic syndrome, or myelodysplasia, includes several diseases in which the bone marrow does not function normally. Bone marrow is the spongy tissue inside the bones where blood cells are produced.

  • In MDS patients, blood cell production is ineffective, in part because their blood cells die prematurely.

  • MDS may take years to progress or may progress quickly, over just a few months. Patients develop anemia, bruising, bleeding or infections.

  • About one-third of MDS patients will develop acute myeloid leukemia (AML). MDS is more common than AML, with about 9,700 new cases per year in the United States.

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Prevention & Causes

Investigating links between aging and MDS – Dr. Derek Stirewalt and colleagues are studying normal blood cell changes in search of clues about how MDS develops. Fred Hutch researchers are also examining how environmental exposures might damage blood stem cells and increase the risk of developing MDS.

Unraveling cells' life cycle – Research led by Drs. Joachim Deeg and colleagues focuses on how some leukemia cells mature and die. A better understanding these processes may lead to new MDS treatment approaches. Learn more >

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Detection & Diagnosis

Pinpointing MDS incidence – Drs. Joachim Deeg and colleagues are getting closer to determining MDS's incidence by studying a health maintenance organization's records. Improving our understanding of how often MDS strikes could help drug manufacturers produce adequate supplies. Learn more >

Improving MDS diagnosis – Since MDS has many variations, it has been hard to develop a system to classify the disease. This poses a challenge for doctors trying to predict MDS's course and to advise patients about treatments. A promising new genetic approach led by our researchers could improve classification and, ultimately, patient outcomes.  Learn more >

Bringing together MDS experts  In 2012, Fred Hutch and the Aplastic Anemia & MDS International Foundation hosted a one-day conference on MDS and related diseases. The event offered expert insights about diagnosis and treatment, and discussed how patients can improve their emotional and physical health.

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Treatment & Prognosis

Pioneering bone marrow transplantation – Transplant physicians at Fred Hutch and its partner, the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, have reported some of the highest cure rates for MDS patients. Hutch's pioneering research in bone marrow and stem cell transplantation, which has saved hundreds of thousands of lives, was recognized in 1990 when Dr. E. Donnall Thomas received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Making transplants less toxic – By minimizing the radiation therapy that patients receive before their bone marrow transplant, Fred Hutch researchers have helped make this lifesaving procedure less toxic and more widely available. Pioneered by Dr. Rainer Storb and colleagues, this “mini transplant" has been shown to yield similar results as traditional bone marrow transplants. Learn more >

Developing radiotherapy – Dr. Johnnie Orozco and colleagues are treating patients with targeted radiotherapy that uses molecules called antibodies to carry radiation directly to cells involved with MDS. This promising therapy reduces damage to healthy tissue and is being studied to learn more about its effectiveness.

Investigating new drugs – Dr. Joachim Deeg and colleagues are investigating a new drug called treosulfan, a chemotherapy agent that appears less toxic than an existing therapy known as busulfan and may improve survival.

Using the immune system to fight MDS – Research from Drs. Deeg, Bart Scott and colleagues suggest that abnormal cells in MDS patients release proteins called cytokines that suppress or even kill normal blood cells. This discovery has lead to treatment strategies that block these proteins and modify the patient’s immune system, which improves blood cell counts and helps prevent anemia, infections and bruising.

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