As the field advances, clinical research developments alter the blood diseases that hematologists work hardest to combat. With exciting discoveries leading to longer lives, fewer medical treatments and better quality of life, the strides hematologists make each day are bettering the world at an incredible rate.
Through training future generations, further educating practicing hematologists and dedicating time to quality patient care, hematology leads those with blood disorders to a world of hope and prolonged life.
At the forefront of development in the field, the American Society of Hematology (ASH) continues to provide researchers, technicians and educators with the tools they need to help those with blood diseases around the world.
According to the CDC, blood disorders affect millions of people in the U.S. Complications from deep vein thrombosis (DVT) kill more people each year than breast cancer, motor vehicle accidents and HIV combined, the CDC reports.
The CDC details further startling statistics affecting our population: Nearly 15 percent of people with hemophilia develop an inhibitor that prevents clotting to treat future bleeding. One in 12 African Americans hold the Sickle Cell trait, and anemia, with more than 400 forms, is the most common blood condition in the U.S. Anemia alone affects more than 3 million women and children.
With blood diseases affecting such a large portion of the population, hematologists need to be pulled toward patient care and research to fulfill the mission of best treating such complex patients, says Linda Burns, MD, 2012 ASH vice president, and professor of Medicine, Division of Hematology, Oncology and Transplantation at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
The primary method for ensuring the increasing attentiveness to patient care and developing treatment is education, Dr. Burns says. "Hematologists must be committed to teaching the next generation our methods and performing research to achieve what we feel is the best care for patients."
Kathleen Finnegan, MS, MT(ASCP)SH, chair/clinical associate professor at Stony Brook University in Long Island, NY, encourages her students to develop a passion for hematology and the difference they can make in patients with blood disorders.
"You have to be really focused, like the microscope and be detail oriented," says Finnegan, who has taught hematology for 20 years. "You must learn to look for specific characteristics in cells and rely on your own eye, despite the progress in analyzers and automation technology.
"Hematologists must be excellent morphologists," she continues. "We don't work with normal cells. Analyzers tell you that something is abnormal. Now you must look at the cell without knowing what challenged it before you've seen it. You have to not just recognize it, but understand the transformations it took to get where it is. "
To give those patients the best and most current care, hematologists need to continue researching new methods of treatment, drug therapy and testing methods, says Dr. Burns. "Patients who have bleeding and clotting disorders, inherited disorders and other major blood disease problems are now living longer with more devoted patient care," she notes. "Children are growing into adults and facing less drastic prognoses. That is due to the dedicated research and clinical trials of hematologists."
Finnegan adds that for patients diagnosed with common blood diseases such as leukemia, the diagnosis is no longer a life sentence. "When people would hear that diagnosis, they would cringe and think of a short prognosis," she says. "But now, with early diagnosis, people have a better chance and a better attitude. With new research and treatment with stem cells and umbilical cord transplants, the chances of survival are much greater."
Exciting developments in drug therapies and personalized medicine are also occurring. "Prior to recent discoveries, there were only certain drugs for patients with blood diseases," Dr. Burns says. "Now, through research and clinical trials, we are developing safer drugs for hematologic disorders."
There also have been strides in genetics. "For example, patients can now be tested to determine whether they will likely need a lower or higher dose of the blood thinning drug, Warfarin, which is used for therapy and prevention of blood clots," Dr. Burns says. "We can now also test patients to determine if they have a distinct type of acute myeloid leukemia that can be successfully treated with chemotherapy, rather than a transplant, which carries with it a higher risk of side effects."
Dr. Burns asserts that those who previously encountered severe bleeding and clotting problems with acute myeloid leukemia no longer suffer. "With appropriate chemotherapy, most patients will not experience bleeding and clotting and see their leukemia regress."
Research has given new hope to hematologic patients, she continues. "We are now identifying what causes diseases, understanding what makes a disease unique for each patient, developing new drugs with better safety profiles for patients with a higher rate of cure, and helping patients survive."
The Future of Hematology
Hematologists can expect continued success in research and education, with a focus on patient care. To reach out to future generations, for example, ASH is introducing hematology to high school students. "We give students the opportunity to come and look at blood cells, make DNA, discover hereditary effects and view poster presentations of work in the classroom," Dr. Burns says. "We have also developed teaching materials for use in the classroom and a film to introduce potential physicians to what hematology is and what happens when a patient is referred to a hematologist."
Kelly Wolfgang is on staff at ADVANCE.