Thousands Diagnosed in Icelandic Blood Cancer Study

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More than 3,600 people have been diagnosed with pre-stage myeloma in an Icelandic study involving blood screening, Vísir reports. Nearly 60 entered drug treatment as a result, which has been effective. The European Research Council has decided to support the research program with a grant of €2 million [ISK 285 million; $2.2 million], enabling the study to continue.

Myeloma is an incurable type of blood cancer that develops from bone marrow cells. Patients’ outlook is generally better when it is diagnosed early. In the autumn of 2016, a national campaign was launched in Iceland to screen for the disease; a collaboration between the University of Iceland, the National University Hospital, and the Icelandic Cancer Society. The aim of the study is to investigate the effects of screening for pre-stage myeloma, to investigate the causes and consequences of the disease, and to improve the lives of those diagnosed with myeloma and search for a possible cure.

More than 75,000 samples have been screened in the study, diagnosing more than 3,600 people with pre-stage myeloma, and almost 300 with advanced myeloma. Those with advanced myeloma have been invited to participate in drug trials with the aim of preventing the progression of the disease.

Effective drug treatment of precursors

Sigurður Yngvi Kristinsson, professor of blood diseases at the University of Iceland’s School of Medicine and a specialist at the National University Hospital, is the recipient of the European Research Council grant. “This is a great recognition for me and the whole research team and the good work that we have been doing lately, and, of course, it enables us to continue researching myeloma and its precursors,” he stated.

“By searching carefully, we find people who are on the verge of developing myeloma,” Sigurður Yngvi explained. “They have what is called smouldering myeloma and are at great risk of that developing into myeloma. And we have been able to intervene before they get myeloma and give them drug treatment, and have nearly 60 people in drug treatment now and some have completed two years of drug treatment with great success, and that is perhaps the biggest milestone.”

Myeloma Research Team Receives Generous Grant

Háskóli Íslands University of Iceland

A research group at the University of Iceland, led by Sigurður Yngvi Kristinsson, professor of blood disease, has received a generous grant of 300 million ISK to amass biological samples of Icelanders, according to a university statement. The project is a part of the national initiative Blóðskimun til bjargar (“Blood Screening to the Rescue”) and is one of the largest science research projects in the world. Around 80 thousand Icelanders will take part by donating blood and bone marrow samples.

The grant is given by the Black Swan Research Initiative, a project within the International Myeloma Foundation, an American non-profit organisation serving patients with myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells in the bone marrow.

Myeloma is currently an incurable disease, with 25 people being diagnosed in Iceland every year and 200 thousand people in the rest of the world. With increasing research and new and improved medication, patient prognosis has improved dramatically over the past years.

Iceland’s myeloma blood screening initiative was first introduced in 2016, in partnership with the University of Iceland. The aim of the initiative is to look at the effects of blood screening and how it can help in understanding the disease, increasing the quality of life of those who are diagnosed with myeloma and hopefully one day find a cure. Every Icelander born in 1975 or earlier was offered to take part, with about 80 thousand people agreeing to participate.

The grant awarded to Sigurður and his team will enable them to build up an impressive blood and bone marrow sample collection for the Blood Screening to the Rescue initiative, which will have an application in further research down the line pertaining to the diagnosis and treatment of myeloma. “When new technology will be introduced we will be able to access our sample bank,” Sigurður says. “We’ll also be able to use more precise techniques to diagnose myeloma cells, even when it’s just one cell amongst millions, both in blood and bone marrow.”

The International Myeloma Foundation’s grant is a godsend to Sigurður and his team, who are optimistic about the future of myeloma research. “We’ve had such an amazing participation from the Icelandic public. The project will help us create valuable knowledge that hitherto hasn’t existed. We’ll be able to generate information on the beginning stages of myeloma and follow-up treatment,” a delighted Sigurður says.