Oncologists usually treat cancer the moment it is diagnosed. But monitoring patients along the multiple myeloma timeline, predicting disease development from precursor to malignancy and deciding when to initiate treatment is an uncertain predicament. MD Anderson researchers are bringing clarity to this clinical dilemma.
Elisabet Manasanch, M.D., associate professor of Lymphoma/Myeloma, leads a study of patients with myeloma or conditions that can lead to the disease with two important goals: to develop reliable risk-prediction models and to identify drivers of progression. This research, part of MD Anderson’s donor-supported High-Risk Multiple Myeloma Moon Shot®, will offer a new depth of understanding.
Myeloma is a cancer that forms in plasma cells. Healthy plasma cells fight infection by making antibodies that attack germs, but myeloma cells accumulate in the bone marrow and crowd out healthy blood cells. The disease has two defined precursor states — monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) and smoldering myeloma — that elicit few symptoms and require little to no intervention. But predicting why and how quickly patients move from one form of the disease to another is unclear.
Private support has been instrumental to Manasanch’s work. In 2017, Ronald O. Perelman and Anna Chapman, M.D., via the Perelman Family Foundation, committed $4 million to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation to launch the Perelman Family Foundation Early Disease Translational Research Program. This initiative brings together six leading cancer centers to advance projects focused on the early detection and prevention of myeloma. MD Anderson investigators, including Manasanch, have carried out related research thanks to this support.
Manasanch currently relies on these philanthropic dollars to conduct single-cell sequencing of myeloma cells at many points along a patient’s monitoring and treatment phases. This provides a snapshot across multiple years. The research team hopes to identify genomic, immunological and clinical parameters that predict progression and suggest therapeutic targets for patients with early disease. Researchers already have discovered changes in the tumor microenvironment composition, expression of genes in immune pathways and expression of immune checkpoints.
Foundation dollars have been key for launching and sustaining this research. But individual gifts to the Moon Shots Program®, as well as donor support from fundraising events and Annual Fund contributions, play an important role in giving our myeloma team the scientific staffing and tools they need.
“Private support is critical for advancing studies aimed at improving our understanding of myeloma, especially for ambitious trials that track patients over multiple years,” Manasanch says. “I am so thankful for donors who believe in the power of science to improve the lives of our patients.”