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  1. ITV Report

Aggressive blood cancer found to be '11 different diseases', according to study

One of the major aggressive types of blood cancer is actually 11 different diseases, according to scientists studying genetics.

Scientists studying genetics found acute myeloid leukaemia is 11 different diseases. Credit: Lynne Cameron / PA Archive

Researchers analysing 111 genes known to be linked to acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) in blood and bone marrow samples found differences which could lead to potentially life-saving personalised treatments.

The study, the deepest investigation of a cancer's genetic background conducted to date, is expected to change the way AML is diagnosed and treated.

In future, new patients could be given blood tests that show which of them are likely to respond well to standard therapy and who has drawn the short genetic straw and may need more intensive or experimental treatments.

AML, which develops in the bone marrow, is a fast-growing and aggressive cancer that often requires months of intense chemotherapy.

In 2013, there were around 2,900 new cases of the disease in the UK.

What we see in this study is that there's a huge complexity, there's a huge variability across different patients. No one patient's leukaemia is like any other patient's leukaemia. It's that complexity that drives the variation we see in the clinic.

You can take two patients who have what look like the same leukaemia under the microscope and apply treatment with exactly the same therapy, and one patient will be cured and one will relapse and die very quickly.

The take home message I think is strongest from this study is that ... a large proportion of what will happen to a patient is written and encoded in the genetic changes that (a) cancer has.

– Professor Peter Campbell

British scientists from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, Cambridgeshire, who took part in the international study, are now conducting a similar analysis of tumour samples from 1,000 breast cancer patients.

Results from that research are expected before the end of the year