This new atlas of leukemia proteomes may prove useful for medical laboratories and pathologists providing diagnostic and prognostic services to physicians treating leukemia patients

Clinical pathology laboratories, hematopathologists, and medical technologists (aka, medical laboratory scientists) have a new tool that aids in leukemia research and helps hematologists and other medical practitioners treat patients with acute myelogenous leukemia (aka, acute myeloid leukemia or AML).

Researchers at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center created the online atlases—categorized into adult and pediatric datasets—to “provide quantitative, molecular hallmarks of leukemia; a broadly applicable computational approach to quantifying heterogeneity and similarity in molecular data; and a guide to new therapeutic targets for leukemias,” according to the Leukemia Atlases website.

In building the Leukemia Proteome Atlases, the researchers identified and classified protein signatures that are present when patients are diagnosed with AML. Their goal is to improve survival rates and aid scientific research for this deadly disease, as well as develop personalized, effective precision medicine treatments for patients.  

The researchers published their findings in Nature Biomedical Engineering, titled, “A Quantitative Analysis of Heterogeneities and Hallmarks in Acute Myelogenous Leukaemia.” A link to a downloadable PDF of the entire published study is below.

 Leukemia: One or Many Diseases?

To perform the study, the scientists looked at the proteomic screens of 205 biopsies of patients with AML and analyzed the genetic, epigenetic, and environmental diversity in the cancer cells. Their analysis “revealed 154 functional patterns based on common molecular pathways, 11 constellations of correlated functional patterns, and 13 signatures that stratify the outcomes of patients.”

Amina Qutub, PhD, Associate Professor at UTSA and one of the authors of the research, told UTSA Today, “Acute myelogenous leukemia presents as a cancer so heterogeneous that it is often described as not one, but a collection of diseases.”

“To decipher the clues found in proteins from blood and bone marrow of leukemia patients, we developed a new computer analysis—MetaGalaxy—that identifies molecular hallmarks of leukemia,” noted Amina Qutub, PhD (above), UTSA Professor of Biomedical Engineering and one of the UTSA study’s authors. “These hallmarks are analogous to the way constellations guide navigation of the stars: they provide a map to protein changes for leukemia,” she concluded. (Photo copyright: UTSA.)

To better understand the proteomic levels associated with AML, and share their work globally with other scientists, the researchers created the Leukemia Proteome Atlases web portal. The information is displayed in an interactive format and divided into adult and pediatric databases. The atlases provide quantitative, molecular hallmarks of AML and a guide to new therapeutic targets for the disease. 

Fighting an Aggressive and Lethal Cancer

AML is a type of cancer where the bone marrow makes an abnormal type of white blood cells called myeloblasts, red blood cells, or platelets. It is one of the most lethal forms of leukemia and only about one in four patients (28.3%) diagnosed with the disease will survive five years after their initial diagnosis, according to Cancer Stat Facts on Leukemia posted by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The NCI predicts there will be approximately 21,540 new cases of AML diagnosed this year. They will account for about 1.2% of all new cancer cases. The disease will be responsible for approximately 10,920 deaths in 2019, or 1.8% of all cancer deaths. In 2016, there were an estimated 61,048 people living with AML in the US. 

“Our ‘hallmark’ predictions are being experimentally tested through drug screens and can be ‘programmed’ into cells through synthetic manipulation of proteins,” Qutub continued. “A next step to bring this work to the clinic and impact patient care is testing whether these signatures lead to the aggressive growth or resistance to chemotherapy observed in leukemia patients.

“At the same time, to rapidly accelerate research in leukemia and advance the hunt for treatments, we provide the hallmarks in an online compendium [LeukemiaAtlas.org] where fellow researchers and oncologists worldwide can build from the resource, tools, and findings.”

By mapping AML patients from the proteins present in their blood and bone marrow, the researchers hope that healthcare professionals will be able to better categorize patients into risk groups and improve treatment outcomes and survival rates for this aggressive form of cancer.  

The Leukemia Proteome Atlases are another example of the trend where researchers work together to compile data from patients and share that information with other scientists and medical professionals. Hopefully, having this type of data readily available in a searchable database will enable researchers—as well as clinical laboratory scientists and pathologists—to gain a better understanding of AML and benefit cancer patients through improved diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring. 

—JP Schlingman

Related Information:

Computational Researchers and Oncologists Develop Protein Cancer Atlas to Accelerate Personalized Medicine for Leukemia Patients

Leukemia Protein Atlas Holds Power to Accelerate Precision Medicine

A Quantitative Analysis of Heterogeneities and Hallmarks in Acute Myelogenous Leukaemia

Downloadable PDF: A quantitative analysis of heterogeneities and hallmarks in acute myelogenous leukaemia

Cancer Stat Facts: Leukemia – Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)