Newswise — New Brunswick, N.J. – January 22, 2018 - Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey is now recognized as a Center of Excellence by the Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS) Foundation in the research, diagnosis and treatment of MDS disorders. Rutgers Cancer Institute hematologist/oncologist Dale Schaar, MD, PhD, who is also an associate professor of medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, is the principal investigator of the program at Rutgers Cancer Institute.  He shares more about what the new designation means for patients with an MDS diagnosis.

Q: What are myelodysplastic disorders?

A: Myelodysplastic syndrome or MDS is a clinical spectrum of progressive bone marrow dysfunction or failure manifested by low blood counts and in some patients can transform into acute leukemia.

Q: How are these disorders generally treated?

A: The treatment of myelodysplasia is determined by the disease stage.  MDS treatment ranges from watchful waiting in early, low-risk disease to definitive treatment of advanced disease with a bone marrow or stem cell transplant in select patients.  The backbone of MDS treatment is supportive care, such as administering growth factors and providing blood transfusions if needed.  A relatively new class of medicines collectively called hypomethylators, have provided the first class of drugs that have significantly benefited MDS patients in terms of increasing survival and decreasing the need for blood transfusions, when more aggressive treatment is required. Presently the only known potentially curative therapy is allogeneic stem cell or bone marrow transplantation.

Q: What is Rutgers Cancer Institute doing to advance our understanding of MDS disorders and increase treatment options?

A: There is a great need for MDS research, as presently there are few therapeutic agents to offer patients with this complex disease.  Moreover, although a proportion of MDS patients may experience an initial response to hypomethylators, this clinical response is typically transient with most patients progressing after one to two years of treatment. For patients that stop responding to hypomethylators there are very few treatment options, particularly for patients who are not candidates for a stem cell transplant.  To fill this need, Rutgers Cancer Institute has an ongoing clinical trial studying a new chemotherapeutic agent in patients that progress after hypomethylators stop working.  It is also important to receive treatment for MDS at a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center such as Rutgers Cancer Institute because we provide all treatment modalities for MDS patients, ranging from supportive care to bone marrow/stem cell transplantation or participation in a clinical trial.

Q: What is the significance of Rutgers Cancer Institute being named a ‘Center of Excellence?’

A: It is very important that Rutgers Cancer Institute has been named one of only two Centers of Excellence in New Jersey by the the MDS Foundation.  This recognition is due to the Rutgers Cancer Institute’s ability to provide comprehensive care to MDS patients, encompassing all levels of MDS care up to and including allogeneic stem cell transplantation.  It is also a significant recognition of our center’s ongoing clinical and basic scientific research to better understand myelodysplasia and to one day discover curative therapies for this complex and presently mostly incurable disease.