Leukaemia is at least 11 different diseases

An aggressive type of blood cancer called Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) is not a single disorder but at least 11 different diseases, according to new research led by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

The discovery helps to explain why AML patients respond differently to the same treatment, and why there is such variability in survival rates. 

After analysing more than 100 different genes in 1,500 patients enrolled in clinical trials, the team found that patients were divided into at least 11 major groups, each with different constellations of genetic changes and distinctive clinical features.

Even within these groups, each patient had a unique combination of genetic changes driving their leukaemia. 

Full knowledge of the genetic make-up of a patient’s leukaemia enabled scientists to better predict whether that patient would be cured with current treatments.

Dr Michael Dunn, Wellcome’s Head of Genetics, said: "Understanding the disease in detail like this gives scientists the information they need to design better diagnostic tools, clinical trials and tailored treatments for people with AML."  

The study is published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Read more about the research in the Sanger Institute press release.