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.
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.
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.
In CML, too many blood stem cells develop into an abnormal type of white blood cell. Called granulocytes, these useless cells can accumulate, preventing the body from producing the normal blood cells and platelets it needs.
CML originates from a genetic abnormality called the Philadelphia chromosome. It is also known as chronic granulocytic, chronic myelocytic or chronic myelogenous leukemia.
In CLL, the bone marrow makes too many abnormal white blood cells, or lymphocytes. These cells never become healthy, infection-fighting cells. They interfere with the production of other important blood cells.
In ALL, the marrow makes too many immature white blood cells, called lymphoblasts. Having too many lymphoblasts decreases the growth of red blood cells, other white blood cells and platelets. ALL is also called acute lymphocytic leukemia or acute lymphoid leukemia.
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.
Fred Hutch scientists are improving blood stem cell transplantation to save the lives of more people with leukemia. Efforts include:
All of these advances are informed by our research on the fundamental biology of blood-forming cells, the immune system and leukemia.
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.
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.
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.
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.