UAMS Myeloma Institute Treats 10,000th Patient

By Nate Hinkel

Established in 1989, the Myeloma Institute was the first center in the world devoted exclusively to research and clinical care of multiple myeloma and related disorders. Myeloma pioneer Bart Barlogie, M.D., Ph.D., the institute’s founder and director, said continued aggressive research and treatment at the institute has significantly expanded scientific knowledge of the disease while leading to higher survival rates.

“We have made tremendous strides in changing the outcome for our patients through work by our researchers, our clinical team and staff in partnership with our patients and family members,” Barlogie said. “The trust placed in our myeloma program by patients from across the United States and all over the world is heartening and keeps all of us focused every day on the ultimate goal of finding a cure.”

Patients have come to the Myeloma Institute from every state and more than 50 countries. Honoring the 10,000 patients milestone, Myeloma Institute staff treated patients, family members and employees to refreshments during an afternoon reception at the institute’s clinic.

“I can’t say enough about the wonderful people I’ve met so far in the Myeloma Institute,” said Lillian Dameron of Holly Lake Ranch, Texas, one of the newest patients to arrive at the Myeloma Institute. She began the extensive evaluation process Nov. 6 for development of a treatment plan based on the genetic fingerprint of her cancer cells.

Diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2006, the 78-year-old recently completed treatment elsewhere and is in remission — but she hopes to stay in remission.

“I had a friend in a support group who is a patient here tell me what a great place this is and the work they are doing here,” said Dameron, who soon after got an appointment and traveled to Little Rock.

Today, the Myeloma Institute reports:

• Five-year survival rate at the Myeloma Institute is 74 percent compared to 43 percent for a comparable population in the National Cancer Institute’s cancer statistics (SEER) database.
• The median survival for Myeloma Institute patients is 8.5 years.
• On any given day there are 311 myeloma patients staying in Little Rock for diagnosis and treatment of their disease.
• The Myeloma Institute continues to follow up on 9,277 patients who are returning for regular checkups or mailing lab samples for regular tests — the largest patient population of any myeloma treatment facility.
• The Myeloma Institute has followed 1,070 patients for more than 10 years. Of these 1,070 patients, 783 have never experienced a relapse of the disease.

“Our large patient population has enabled us to develop more effective curative treatments through clinical research,” Barlogie said.

Researchers led by John Shaughnessy, Ph.D., director of the Donna D. and Donald M. Lambert Laboratory of Myeloma Genetics at the Myeloma Institute hypothesized 12 years ago that gene expression profiling of multiple myeloma cells at time of diagnosis might be able to predict a patient’s ultimate response to therapy.

After a decade of follow-up on more than 1,000 patients receiving uniform treatment, the researchers were able to show that patterns of just 70 of the 25,000 genes tested could predict less aggressive, or low-risk, and more aggressive, or high-risk, forms of the disease. About 20 percent of newly diagnosed cases are thus identified as high-risk.

In 2008, the Myeloma Institute began the two clinical trials using a tool developed by UAMS researchers for identifying patients with a more aggressive or less aggressive form of multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood’s plasma. They were believed to be the first clinical trials for multiple myeloma or any other cancer to involve risk-specific treatment plans based on the genetic makeup of the tumor.

In 2009, the National Cancer Institute awarded a five-year, $19.5 million grant renewal to Barlogie and the Myeloma Institute in 2009 to continue its research, marking the fourth, five-year renewal of continuous funding from the NCI.