Taking Aim at Pre-Leukemia Disorders: NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia Establishes Myelodysplastic Syndromes Center

New Center to Be One of Nation's Busiest for Research and Treatment of the Pre-Leukemia Blood Disorders

Aug 30, 2010


NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center has established a new center devoted to research and treatment of pre-leukemia blood disorders. Known as the Myelodysplastic Syndromes Center, it is one of the largest programs of its kind in the nation.

Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) are disorders interfering with blood production in the bone marrow. Approximately one-third of patients with MDS progress to acute myelogenous leukemia — a cancer characterized by the rapid growth of abnormal white blood cells that accumulate in the bone marrow and interfere with the production of normal blood cells.

The new MDS Center is led by Dr. Azra Raza, who is also professor of medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. A world authority on MDS, Dr. Raza has been advancing new treatments for myeloid disorders since the 1980s. Her research into the biology of MDS led to the approval of new treatments, notably lenalidomide.

Dr. Raza continues to pursue research on a number of fronts. The Center is testing the effects of novel drugs and is now developing treatments for early-stage MDS.

"Traditionally, even if we were able to catch MDS early, we were unable to treat it. Because the current therapies are very potent with multiple side effects, we have to tell patients to wait on treatment until their disease progresses. To address this issue, we are working to develop new treatments for early-stage MDS using nontoxic, natural substances," says Dr. Raza. "Preliminary research has shown that ginger, curcumin and coenzyme Q10 have been effective treatments for some patients. Going forward we are looking at a more powerful form of ginger that looks promising in pre-clinical studies."

Other research is focused on using genetic testing to identify patients who best respond to treatment in order to avoid administering chemotherapy, along with its associated side effects, when it is unlikely to work. Studies into the genes or pathways involved in MDS pathology are going after new treatment targets. This research — and similar projects by collaborating institutions from Yale and Harvard and the NIH — makes use of NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia's Myelodysplastic Syndromes Center Tissue Repository, perhaps the largest of its kind anywhere.

"Our goal is controlling symptoms, improving quality of life and improving overall survival," says Dr. Raza.

Center of Excellence

The Myelodysplastic Syndromes Foundation has recently designated NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia as a Center of Excellence for research, diagnosis and treatment of myelodysplastic syndrome.

In a letter to Dr. Raza, the MDS Foundation wrote: "The Foundation looks forward to working with you and your colleagues to further worldwide research efforts; to provide excellence in diagnosis, treatment and supportive care for patients; and to extend education about MDS not only to the hematology/oncology physician community, but to patients, caregivers and the general public."

Dr. Azra Raza

Dr. Azra Raza directs clinical and basic research efforts into malignant diseases and the acute leukemias that arise from them. For nearly 30 years, Dr. Raza has pursued pioneering research into the biology of MDS and translational studies leading to the development of new drug treatments for MDS. She is currently investigating the use of natural, non-toxic substances for the early treatment of myeloid diseases. She has published the results of more than 250 basic and clinical research studies in journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine, Nature, Blood, Cancer, Cancer Research, British Journal of Hematology, Leukemia and Leukemia Research. She is also the editor of a book devoted to MDS.

Dr. Raza completed her medical education in Pakistan; she completed her training in internal medicine at the University of Maryland, Franklin Square Hospital, and Georgetown/VA Medical Center in Washington, D.C. She completed a fellowship in medical oncology at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y. In 1992, she established a translational research program in MDS at Rush University in Chicago.

Prior to joining NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia, she was director of the MDS program at St. Vincent's Comprehensive Cancer Center and chief of Hematology/Oncology at the University of Massachusetts.

Columbia University Medical Center

Columbia University Medical Center provides international leadership in basic, preclinical and clinical research, in medical and health sciences education, and in patient care. The Medical Center trains future leaders and includes the dedicated work of many physicians, scientists, public health professionals, dentists, and nurses at the College of Physicians & Surgeons, the Mailman School of Public Health, the College of Dental Medicine, the School of Nursing, the biomedical departments of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and allied research centers and institutions. Established in 1767, Columbia's College of Physicians and Surgeons was the first institution in the country to grant the M.D. degree and is now among the most selective medical schools in the country. Columbia University Medical Center is home to the largest medical research enterprise in New York City and state and one of the largest in the United States. Columbia University Medical Center is affiliated with NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. For more information, please visit www.cumc.columbia.edu.

NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital

NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, based in New York City, is the nation's largest not-for-profit, non-sectarian hospital, with 2,353 beds. The Hospital has nearly 2 million inpatient and outpatient visits in a year, including more than 220,000 visits to its emergency departments — more than any other area hospital. NewYork-Presbyterian provides state-of-the-art inpatient, ambulatory and preventive care in all areas of medicine at five major centers: NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, NewYork-Presbyterian/Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital, NewYork-Presbyterian/The Allen Hospital and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Westchester Division. One of the most comprehensive health care institutions in the world, the Hospital is committed to excellence in patient care, research, education and community service. NewYork-Presbyterian is the #1 hospital in the New York metropolitan area and is consistently ranked among the best academic medical institutions in the nation, according to U.S.News & World Report. The Hospital has academic affiliations with two of the nation's leading medical colleges: Weill Cornell Medical College and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

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