Leukemias are rare diseases that severely affect the patients’ health and life expectancy. In the last years a great breakthrough happened in diagnosing and healing these patients, and leukemias (with other blood cancers) are at the core of an innovative model of medicine and sanitary organization, known as “personalized medicine”.
Personalized medicine aims to understand the genetic basis of diseases and to use this knowledge in order to make better diagnoses and prognoses for patients. This way, the development of innovative treatments will be based on individual genomic profiles.
Personalized Medicine and Hematologic Malignancies
Hematologic malignancies are the ideal context to realize personalized medicine plans”, professor Matteo Della Porta, Supervisor of the Leukemia Section at Humanitas, explains. “These diseases critically affect human health and sanitary organization. In addition to this, their morbidity is constantly growing due to the gradual ageing of the population. There is cause to think that the development of a sanitary model based on personalized medicine could result in an increase in the population’s life quality and expectancy,
The new classification of hematologic diseases made by the World Health Organization (WHO), published in 2016, totally acknowledges the need to evolve the system towards a personalized-medicine model, defining most diseases on the basis of biological and molecular criteria.
“The new WHO classification has been recognized as an educational priority also by the European School of Hematology (ESH). We organized a meeting in Dublin, ended on March 11, called “WHO Classification: Towards Personalized Medicine in Haematology”. In that place, at the presence of hematologists from all around Europe, we discussed the clinical and therapeutic implications of the new classification system”.
“Humanitas has been the first hospital to formalize, in September 2016, a hematology multidisciplinary diagnostic path. We created a work team with all the involved professionals: specialist hematologist, morphologist, flow cytometry expert, pathologist, and molecular biologist. The diagnostic multidisciplinary team will increase the quality of the diagnoses and will promote an efficient adjustment of innovation processes, also thanks to the study of those genomic alterations that are specific for each patient”.
Reducing the Time Interval Between Research and Benefits for Patients
Implementing personalized medicine poses two levels of criticality: the need for the integration of scientific, medical and technological competences, and a huge push towards the hastening of technological transfer. In other words, today the leukemia challenge consists in being able to integrate rapidly the laboratory research discoveries with the patients’ clinical path.
In some countries, such as the United States, specific programs have been financed in order to fill the technological gap necessary to realize a personalized medicine program for critical diseases. In Italy, where there is no project for a personalized medicine system, it is evidently necessary to promote the launch of technological districts having as a goal the integration among research, formation and innovation in this specific field.
Lombard Hematologic Network
Humanitas is a part of the Lombard Hematologic Network (“Rete Ematologica Lombarda”, REL), that gathers centers of excellence for the cure of leukemia since 2008. Just recently REL has launched a personalized medicine program for blood tumors, financed by the Regional Foundation for Biomedical Research.
“The aim of the Humanitas leukemia program is to understand the genetic basis of diseases and to guarantee to hematologic patients access to the best therapies through the development of innovative treatments based on the individual genomic profile.
This project will allow each patient to choose the treatment they deem best for themselves, with resource aptness and optimization in the use of medications: this will happen thanks to the advanced knowledge of the individual patients’ diseases. In addition, this will make innovative clinical studies possible, guaranteeing access to the best therapies to the patients”.
“At Humanitas we already have research laboratories and highly professional clinical practice: these are the necessary elements to make this project successful. Moreover, we are one of the few hospitals in Italy to have been accredited according to the new AIFA regulations for drug trials, since the earliest moments of the use on human subjects”.
The Importance of an International Setting
Humanitas, reference center for the treatment of leukemias, has played a fundamental role in the launch of EuroBloodNet: an European reference network for rare hematologic diseases (leukemias), an innovative platform in Europe.
The EuroBloodNet project includes hematologic centers of excellence in more than ten European countries, among which there is the Humanitas Cancer Center. It aims to:
- Improve equality in the health care supply regarding rare hematologic diseases in Europe, by creating and coordinating centers of excellence, and gathering patients’ data from pathology registers.
- Promote the spreading and fulfillment of specific guidelines for each disease, and their constant update.
- Promote the development of innovative clinical studies and the creation of platforms and new technologies, endorse research and the identification of new pharmacological targets.
EuroBloodNet will become a fundamental structure to improve the services for the clinical management of patients who suffer from leukemia, offering them the best possible therapies.