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Better treatments for acute myeloid leukemia sought with largest dataset

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Researchers have put together the largest dataset of acute myeloid leukemia, featuring 672 samples from 562 patients.

Over five years, scientists at Oregon Health & Science University led research compilation on the form of cancer with a low survival rate. The findings were published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Acute myeloid leukemia starts in the bone marrow and usually moves quickly into the blood, as well. It can sometimes spread to other parts of the body, including the lymph nodes, liver, spleen, central nervous system and testicles.

Approximately 0.5 percent of men and women will be diagnosed with AML at some point during their lifetime, according to the National Cancer Institute. The survival rate is 27.4 percent beyond five years among newly diagnosed patients.

Because the AML is not a single disease, researchers noted the standard of care has largely remained unchanged for the past 40 years.

"When you have clinical information that is well integrated with research data, you can ask more questions of the data," co-first author Dr. Jeff Tyner, associate professor of cell, developmental and cancer biology in the OHSU School of Medicine and researcher with the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, said in a press release. "Let's say a physician sees an AML patient with a particular gene mutation. With the lab screening information we have, our dataset can be useful to see if that particular gene mutation corresponds with certain drug sensitivities."

Representatives from 11 academic medical centers helped collect the samples. Eleven pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies contributed supplied drugs for testing.

The OHSU Knight Cancer Institute is one of several cancer institutes across the country partnering with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society to seek new treatments for the disease as part of the Beat AML initiative.

"The strength of the consortium really helped drive the project," co-first author Cristina Tognon said. "It took everyone working together to achieve this goal. We couldn't have done this alone."

The researchers worked toward a comprehension of the genomic sequencing and molecular makeup of these samples as well as data on how the tumor cells respond to various drugs in 122 trials.

To organize the massive amount of data, they developed a new data visualization platform called Vizome.

"The flood of high throughput, multi-dimensional data has the potential to overwhelm scientists and clinicians, isolating them from knowledge discovery," said Dr. Shannon McWeeney, professor and head of bioinformatics and computational biology in the OHSU School of Medicine and an OHSU Knight Cancer Institute researcher. "This necessitates a new generation of scientific computing approaches and strategies to manage, integrate and visualize the data, fueling exploration. Vizome allows anyone to explore these data, ask questions and start pursuing answers."

Vizome can lead to new breakthroughs as well as novel hypotheses for understanding and treating AML, the researchers said.

"We have some clinical trials starting now, and others we're developing, that will test some of our hypotheses," Tyner said. "You can start to sense some momentum building with new, better therapeutics for AML patients, and hopefully this dataset will help fuel that momentum even further. We want to parlay this information into clinical trials as much as we can, and we also want the broader community to use this dataset to accelerate their own work."
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