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50 years of hairy-cell leukemia research to be observed

COLUMBUS, Ohio In 1958, Ohio State University cancer researcher Dr. Bertha Bouroncle first identified a deadly disease now known as hairy-cell leukemia, a once fatal disease that can now be effectively treated.

Now, 50 years later researchers from across the globe are gathering for a symposium titled "50 years of Enormous Progress in Hairy Cell Leukemia: A Celebration of Clinical Research with Remaining Unanswered Questions."

The free Friday Satellite Symposium, which precedes the 50th American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting, will be held from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. PST Friday (12/5) at the Moscone Convention Center West, 888 Howard St., San Francisco, Level 3, Room 3000/3002/3004.

Hairy-cell leukemia is a relatively rare form of adult chronic leukemia that affects white blood cells called B lymphocytes. This disease was once uniformly fatal, but highly successful therapies have been developed, and patients today who receive proper treatment can have a relatively normal quality of life.

Dr. Michael Grever, chairman of the department of internal medicine at Ohio State and co-leader of the Experimental Therapeutics program at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute, is one of seven leukemia experts who will lead the meeting. The investigators also plan to establish an international association devoted to hairy-cell leukemia research.

"This seminar celebrates the progress we've made in hairy-cell leukemia, yet recognizes the work that still needs to be done," said Grever, who specializes in hematologic malignancies. "We want to show practicing oncologists that in the past 50 years, we've gone from a fatal, untreatable disease to one that can be treated effectively, allowing patients to live relatively normal lives."

Other presenters include Dr. John Cawley, department of haematology at the University of Liverpool in the U.K.; Dr. Robert J. Kreitman, clinical immunotherapy section, National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland; Francesco Lauria, division of hematology and transplantation medicine immunological services, University of Siena in Siena, Italy; Dr. Alan Saven, division of hematology and oncology, Scripps Clinic, and Ida M. and Cecil Green Cancer Center, La Jolla, Calif.; Dr. Deborah Thomas, department of leukemia, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston; and Dr. Pier Luigi Zinzani, University of Bologna in Bologna, Italy.

Hairy-cell leukemia is rare, accounting for only about 500 new cases each year, or about 2 percent of all leukemias. As a result, hematologists may encounter this disease only a few times in their career.

Symposium attendees will learn to:

  • Identify the clinical presentation and complications associated with hairy-cell leukemia.
  • Recognize the correct diagnosis and distinguish this disease from numerous lymphoid malignancies.
  • Indicate the correct time to initiate systemic therapy and select the appropriate regimen.
  • Outline the management of care when patients relapse or fail to respond to therapy, and utilize supportive care to prevent and manage infection in the patient with hairy-cell leukemia.

"We still need to do more research," says Grever. "This is like taking the football down to the 5-yard line and not getting the touchdown."

Grever will discuss long-term follow-up studies of patients who were treated for hairy-cell leukemia, including studies he conducted with Bouroncle and Dr. Eric Kraut at Ohio State's Medical Center. Bouroncle spent her entire career at Ohio State, and is now a faculty emeritus in the department of internal medicine.

Hairy-cell leukemia is seven times more common among elderly men than elderly women. Patients with this disease often have low platelet counts and blood counts, anemia and are at high risk for developing infections, Grever said. Symptoms may include fatigue, infections and weight loss.


Contact: Eileen Scahill
Ohio State University Medical Center

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