Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) refers to a group of disorders that are also known as blood cancer. AML is an aggressive disease of malignant immature blood cells which, if left untreated, almost always causes the death of the affected patient. The established method of treatment is the use of a combination of various chemotherapeutic agents. However, dependent on the genetic subtype and the age of the patient, only about half of those with AML respond to this kind of treatment.

The goal of current research is thus to develop more efficient and less toxic forms of treatment. To achieve this, Dr. Michael Kühn of the University Medical Center of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) has been collaborating with the work groups of Professor Scott Armstrong in New York and Boston. They built on the relatively recent scientific discovery that changes to the “packaging structure” of DNA can contribute to the development of cancers. These chemical modifications particularly occur in the so-called histone proteins. These proteins are responsible for the coiling of DNA in mammalian cells. Various chemical modifications of these histone proteins will result in an increase or decrease in the relevant gene activity. DNA wrapped around histones is also called chromatin. Accordingly, the proteins writing, reading, or removing the chemical modifications of histones are called chromatin regulators.

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Dr. Stegall’s Comments: AML is a very aggressive form of leukemia which sometimes responds very well to conventional treatment and sometimes does not. As with most cancers, I feel that an integrative approach is best. By combining conventional therapies with alternative therapies in a personalized, patient-centered way, we expect to have improved treatment responses with fewer side effects.