Oct. 10, 2007 | The internationally known treatment program for multiple myeloma at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) reached another milestone today as Jeffrey Zwerin of California received the 7,000th stem-cell transplant procedure performed at the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy.
The institute, a part of the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute (formerly the Arkansas Cancer Research Center), has performed more blood stem cell transplants for myeloma than any other facility in the world.
“This medical milestone represents the continued impact that Dr. Barlogie and the staff at the Myeloma Institute have on medicine through their dedication to patient care, research and education,” said UAMS Chancellor I. Dodd Wilson, M.D. “They’ve built a program that keeps Arkansans from having to leave the state for treatment while at the same time attracting patients from around the world.”
Between 1995 and 2001 the five-year survival rate reported by the National Cancer Institute for newly diagnosed myeloma patients was 34 percent. At the Myeloma Institute, for the same time period, 57 percent of newly diagnosed patients lived five years or more. Five-year survival rates at the institute are now more than 65 percent. UAMS has achieved a median survival rate of seven years.
“The transplants are a vital part of our total therapy treatment protocol,” said Bart Barolgie, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Myeloma Institute and a professor in the UAMS College of Medicine. “Our mission is to develop therapies for our patients, like Mr. Zwerin. Our ongoing efforts are focused on the most effective myeloma treatments through the clinical and research resources of the Myeloma Institute.”
The stem cells are typically collected from the patient at the outset of treatment and then given back as a transfusion to promote recovery of the bone marrow following high-dose chemotherapy. Stem cell transplantation has led to higher survival and remission rates for those patients with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood’s plasma. The first stem cell transplant to treat myeloma at UAMS was conducted in 1989.
Jeffrey Zwerin, D.O. and a board-certified psychiatrist from northern California, received the transplant of stem cells previously collected from him. He was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in late 2006 and came to the Myeloma Institute for treatment in 2007. He will receive a second stem cell transplant following high-dose chemotherapy in a few months as part of his treatment protocol.
UAMS treats more than 2,250 patients with myeloma annually at the Myeloma Institute – more myeloma patients than are treated at any other facility in the country.
Wilson credited former Chancellor Harry Ward, M.D., and former Cancer Institute directors James Suen, M.D., and Kent Westbrook, M.D., with recruiting Barlogie to UAMS. In 2006, Barlogie was named a National Physician of the Year, receiving one of the first such awards given by the organization responsible for the annual America’s Top Doctors publication. In 2004, he received the Robert A. Kyle Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Myeloma Foundation in recognition of his 20-year career in the treatment of multiple myeloma.
The Myeloma Institute also has remained in the forefront of research and education. Researchers there draw from more than 3,000 samples of bone marrow and 19,000 tissue samples to try to identify the genetic mechanisms behind myeloma.
In 2007, John Shaughnessy, Ph.D., director of the Lambert Laboratory of Myeloma Genetics at the Myeloma Institute, led a team that identified the molecular trigger for birth defects caused by the drug thalidomide, a discovery that also could be the mechanism that makes it effective against multiple myeloma. The sedative was given to pregnant women in the 1950s and 1960s to treat morning sickness until it was found to cause birth defects. It is currently used as a treatment for multiple myeloma.
A team of UAMS researchers, including Barlogie and Shaughnessy, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2006 that thalidomide as a part of a treatment program for multiple myeloma produced higher remission and five-year survival rates in patients. The drug failed to increase overall survival and was associated with several adverse side effects, such as blood clots, according to the research.
Also in 2007, Shaughnessy’s team reported development of a genetic analysis model for identifying patients with aggressive multiple myeloma.
UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with five colleges, a graduate school, a medical center, six centers of excellence and a statewide network of regional centers. UAMS has about 2,538 students and 733 medical residents. It is one of the state’s largest public employers with about 9,600 employees, including nearly 1,000 physicians who provide medical care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the VA Medical Center and UAMS’ Area Health Education Centers throughout the state. UAMS and its affiliates have an economic impact in Arkansas of $5 billion a year. For more information, visit www.uams.edu.