Blood Cancer Research

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: May 2023

Researchers continue to search for new ways to treat blood cancer. Emerging treatments for blood cancer can generally be grouped into the following categories:

  • Identifying features specific to the cancer cells, including genetic mutations, that can be a focus for targeted therapies
  • Harnessing the power of the immune system in immunotherapies

Genetic mutations and targeted therapy

Targeted therapies exploit specific features of cancer cells to stop their growth while minimizing harm to normal cells.1-4

In cancer cells, mutations make the cells grow out of control. Identifying these mutations can help researchers find new ways to treat cancer. By targeting the specific mutations that are only found in cancer cells, the side effects of these treatments on normal, healthy cells may be lessened.

Some targeted therapies are already approved to treat certain blood cancers, including:1-4

  • Tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKI), which block certain proteins that are key to cancer cells' growth.
  • Monoclonal antibodies, which block the cancer cell's growth or help the immune system identify the cancer cells. They may also be used to deliver chemotherapy drugs or radioactive particles to cancer cells.
  • BCL2 inhibitors, which target BCL2 proteins and cause the cancer cells to die.
  • Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors, which block JAK proteins that are important in certain cancer cells' growth.
  • Histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors, which block enzymes that help regulate the expression of different genes.
  • IDH inhibitors, which block mutated IDH to help immature cells become more mature.
  • Hedgehog pathway inhibitors, which target proteins produced by an overactive cell signaling pathway called hedgehog.
  • Other types of targeted therapies, such as PI3K inhibitors, EZH2 inhibitors, and nuclear export inhibitors.

Not every blood cancer has the same features, so many different types of targeted therapy are being studied. Researchers are also studying who is best to be treated by each therapy and the possible side effects of these treatments.

Boosting the body’s immune system with immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is a category of treatment that boosts or harnesses the body’s immune system to fight the cancer.

One of the developments in immunotherapy has been chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy. During CAR T-cell therapy, your T-cells are removed from your body. T-cells are one type of immune cell in your body. The T-cells are then modified in a lab and given new, cancer-recognizing receptors. The modified T-cells are then given back to you so they target and kill cancer cells.5,6

As of 2023, there are 6 CAR T-cell therapies available to treat certain forms of blood cancer. More CAR T-cell therapies are being researched. Some studies are exploring the possibility of using donor T-cells for the therapy.5

Other forms of immunotherapy, such as immune checkpoint inhibitors, are being used to treat certain blood cancers. Research in this area also continues.

Participating in clinical trials

Many of these and other new treatments are being studied in clinical trials. People who enroll in a clinical trial may receive the latest treatment approaches. They can also be a part of research that may bring these new treatments to the public. Talk to your doctor about whether a clinical trial is an option for you.

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