Taking on t-AML

A large team of University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center (UCCCC) scientists and clinicians has launched an all-out assault on therapy-related acute myeloid leukemia, a particularly cruel and ironic cancer caused by cancer treatment itself.

Typically, t-AML patients have celebrated success over their initial disease only to learn their first treatment has caused a second, uniformly fatal cancer. With no effective treatments for t-AML in either adults or children, average survival is only eight months after diagnosis.

In taking on this devastating disease, the UCCCC team is pioneering a new approach to life-science research called systems biology, which combines computer modeling and tissue analysis to unravel the full genomic complexity of disease.

Their goal is to choreograph a series of mutually leveraging discoveries leading to major clinical benefits, including new:

  • Tests that identify cancer patients genetically disposed to develop t-AML so initial treatments can be modified to reduce their risk.
  • Medicines that kill leukemia stem cells. UCCC researchers believe that t-AML is incurable because progenitor cells survive treatment and quickly re-establish the cancer.
  • Promising drug candidates with potential to wipe out leukemic cells. These potential therapies will be tested for safety and effectiveness in clinical trials as part of this comprehensive effort.

If successful, this project will save thousands of lives. Without this work, the toll of T-AML will grow dramatically in coming decades as the at-risk population among the United States’ 14 million cancer survivors also grows.

Success will also demonstrate the effectiveness of the systems biology approach to research being pioneered at the University of Chicago. The complexity of real-life biological systems is a stumbling block for traditional approaches to research. As practiced here, systems biology is a powerful tool for breaking through the complexity that stands in the way of new cures.