U of M, Mayo receive grant to study blood cancer

Researchers at the University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic have received a $1.35 million grant to study a form of blood cancer called myelodysplastic syndrome.

The grant from the Minnesota Partnership for Biotechnology and Medical Genomics is on top of $2.5 million the university received last year from the National Institutes of Health to study the disease.

The disease, often referred to as MDS, is characterized by a low red or white blood cell count where a person's bone marrow isn't very effective in replacing the cells.

"It's one of those orphan cancers that we don't know much about," said University of Minnesota epidemiologist Julie Ross. "We know that about 30 percent of patients will go on to develop a leukemia, which is very difficult to treat."

Ross said the disease mostly affects people over age 60 but can also affect children.

The study involves following Minnesota patients who have MDS.

"What we're going to be doing is looking at the underlying genetics of the disease, so enrolling patients and we'll be following those patients to find out who goes on to develop leukemia and so we can look at the different genetic changes that might occur," Ross said.

Ross said understanding those changes could lead to better treatment options.

Minnesota has one of the highest rates of the condition, but researchers don't yet know why. The NIH grant is helping researchers look for possible explanations, Ross said.

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