Earlier this week, ABC's Robin Roberts announced she is battling myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a disease of the blood and bone marrow. In patients with MDS, the bone marrow keeps trying to make more blood cells to make up for a deficit, but many of these cells die before they make it into the blood stream. The condition is often treated with chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants.
MDS can be a scary condition for patients. More than 10,000 patients are diagnosed with the condition each year and 30 percent of those cases progress into acute leukemia. The condition can occur seemingly at random with few known causes.
For reasons still unknown, Minnesota owns the country's highest incidence rate of MDS. As a result, both the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic have made MDS research a priority, which spells good news for MDS patients across the country.
Together, the two institutions are taking the lead on the development of new tools to both diagnose and treat the condition.
Recently, U of M and Mayo researchers were awarded $1.35 million by the Minnesota Partnership to combat the disease. That grant comes on the heels of a five-year, $2.5 million grant awarded last year to U of M epidemiologist Julie Ross, Ph.D., and pediatric hematologist-oncologist Erica Warlick, M.D., to conduct the nation's first large scale epidemiologic study of MDS.
"There aren't many studies where we look at newly-diagnosed patients and follow them over time, so we've never truly investigated why people get MDS," said Ross. "Therefore we can't definitively say which patients will see their disease progress into leukemia. We want to take the speculation and shift it into fact, giving patients a better chance against the disease."