Acute Myeloid Leukemia Breakthrough: Dr. Jeffrey Tyner

Jeffrey Tyner, Ph.D., assistant professor of Cell & Developmental Biology for Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) and a researcher with OHSU’s Knight Cancer Institute, is making an important contribution to the improvement of personalized cancer medicine. His work is well-known by analyzing data on genetic mutations in patients’ cancer cells, “derived through deep genomic sequencing”, while evaluating the method by which tumor cells with those mutations respond to gene-targeted treatment.


The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) conducted research at Oregon Health & Sciences University (OHSU) that identified an important gene mutation in an adult patient with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), and in a pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia patient. This is the first time that the “mutation of the anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) gene has been seen in an AML patient”. This type of mutation is already known to be found in solid tumors and is treatable with ALK inhibitors. This suggests that the types of leukemia with these mutations, such as the blood cancer AML, may also be treatable with ALK inhibitors such as crizotinib and ceritinib, which are both used in patients with non-small cell lung cancer whose tumors have tested positive for ALK.

New Treatment?

According to Dr. Tyner, “The discovery of new mutant versions of ALK that may contribute to the development of leukemia and can be therapeutically targeted suggests new treatment options for patients with leukemia with ALK mutations”, as the standard of care for patients with AML has been unchanged in more than three decades. This means that a more extensive use of ALK inhibitors should be considered, specifically for patients with ALK mutations such as AML, and that drugs targeting ALK “could be applied on the basis of genetic features of patients’ tumor cells.”


Dr Tyner’s continuing work with LLS and the Knight Cancer Institute indicates that careful “genomic assessment” of various types of leukemia can and will result in important new findings that could be very relevant for treatment of a patient with AML. AML is a particularly devastating blood cancer that causes more than 10,000 deaths per year, and although the exact causes of AML are unknown, there are certain risk factors that may increase a person’s risk of developing AML, such as smoking, exposure to radiation, blood/genetic disorders, and exposure to benzene.