Acute myeloid leukaemia research
Find out about research into the causes, prevention and treatment of acute myeloid leukaemia. You can find the following information
Acute myeloid leukaemia research
All treatments must be fully researched before they can be adopted as standard treatment for everyone. This is so that we can be sure they work better than the treatments we already use. And so we know that they are safe.
First of all, treatments are developed and tested in laboratories. Only after we know that they are likely to be safe to test are they tested in people, in clinical trials.
Research is looking into new chemotherapy drugs, stem cell transplants, biological therapies and treating AML in older people. Cancer Research UK supports a lot of UK laboratory research into cancer and also supports many clinical trials.
You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the treating AML section.
We must fully research all potential treatments before we can adopt them as standard treatment for everyone. This is so that
- We can be sure they work
- We can be sure they work better than treatments that are available at the moment
- They are known to be safe
First of all, treatments are developed and tested in laboratories. For ethical and safety reasons, experimental treatments must be tested in the laboratory before they can be tried in people. If a treatment described here is said to be at the laboratory stage of research, it is not ready for patients and is not available either in the NHS or in private healthcare organisations.
Cancer Research UK supports a lot of UK laboratory research into cancer and also supports many clinical trials. Clinical trials test treatment in patients and there are 4 phases of trials.
If you are interested in taking part in a clinical trial for acute leukaemia, visit our searchable database of clinical trials in the UK. If you are interested in a particular trial that is recruiting, you can print it off and take it to your own specialist. If the trial is suitable for you, your doctor needs to refer you to the research team. The database also has information about closed trials and trial results. Most major leukaemia treatment centres are continually involved in clinical trials.
Here is a video on what it's like to take part in a clinical trial:
View a transcript of the video (Opens in a new window)
Trials are looking at different combinations of chemotherapy. They're looking at
- whether chemotherapy can prevent AML from coming back (recurrence)
- learning about chemotherapy side effects
- new chemotherapy drugs
- different chemotherapy drug combinations
- how quality of life is affected
Bone marrow and stem cell transplants can work well for acute leukaemia. But the intensive chemotherapy can be so difficult that only very fit patients can cope with it. Now doctors are looking at a new, less harsh type of transplant.
Doctors know that leukaemia is less likely to come back in people who have a donor transplant and get a reaction called graft versus host disease (GVHD). In GVHD the donor blood cells attack the patient's own cells, including the leukaemia cells. Doctors call this the graft versus leukaemia (GVL) effect.
The mini transplant (or reduced intensity conditioning transplant) makes use of the graft versus leukaemia effect. The chemotherapy doses you have are too low to destroy your own bone marrow. You have just enough chemotherapy to damp down your marrow until the donor cells have settled into it and started to produce blood cells.
The aim is that you develop mild GVHD so the donor cells can attack and kill the leukaemic cells. Although this treatment helps more people to live longer than a full transplant, you still need to be fairly fit. The GVHD can be tough to cope with.
Different trials for AML are looking into
- how well less intense transplants work
- different chemotherapy drug combinations before transplants
Doctors can't find a match for about a third of those needing a transplant. The UK Haplo study is looking at an option for these people. This is a half matched transplant, where the donor is at least 50% match with the person having the stem cell transplant.
The aim is to find out
- how well a new drug works with a half matched stem cell transplant
- how safe it is
- about side effects
- if quality of life is affected
Bone marrow and stem cell transplants for AML use high dose chemotherapy, and sometimes total body radiotherapy. Bone marrow or stem cell transplants give the best chance of controlling the AML for a long time in some people. But the high dose treatment can also cause severe side effects. Doctors are trying to find ways of improving these treatments.
Trials are using the stem cells collected from the umbilical cords of newborn babies. They are looking into whether they can these stem cells with different doses of chemotherapy and what the side effects are.
Treatment for AML varies with age. You have to be very fit to get through some of the intensive treatments, so doctors don’t generally use them for older people. The older you are, the less likely you are to be fit enough. The good news is that as we get better at managing the effects, intensive treatments are being used more for older people.
Doctors think about treatment and the possible effects individually for each patient. You can be in your 50s and not be as fit as some people who are in their 60s or even older. Whether you can have a transplant also depends on whether you have a brother or sister fit enough to be a donor. As you get older, the chance of having a donor who is fit enough gets lower.
AML trials are looking into
- different treatment combinations to improve treatment for older people
- whether intensive treatment or non intensive treatment works better
- different chemotherapy drugs
- whether biological therapies can help with chemotherapy
- whether new treatments are safe for older people
At the moment, the only way to be sure you have this infection is to have a test called a bronchoscopy. This involves putting a tube down your windpipe and into your lungs to take samples. You have a local anaesthetic or a drug to make you drowsy before the bronchoscopy. But it can still be uncomfortable.
A trial is testing 2 new ways of checking for aspergillus. One is a blood test and the other is a breath test. Researchers want to see how good these tests are at finding aspergillus infection in people with acute leukaemia.
Biological therapies are treatments that can control the growth of cancer cells by changing or blocking chemical pathways in the cells. Biological therapies studied in acute leukaemias include
- Monoclonal antibodies
- Tyrosine kinase inhibitors
- Drugs that block cell growth
- DNA vaccine
There are different trials happening within these types of biological therapies. They are looking into
- using biological therapies alongside chemotherapy
- comparing biological therapies with chemotherapy to see what works best
- if certain drugs work best for young people, children and older people
- what the side effects are
- different treatment options for people who can't have intensive treatment
- ways to stop leukaemia from coming back
- a new vaccine to boost the immune system and kill of leukaemia cells
Find out about
For general information and support
Contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040 (Open 9am - 5pm, Monday to Friday)
Share experiences on our online forum with Cancer Chat
Question about cancer? Contact our information nurse team