Our Approach and Expertise

Columbia Cancer stands at the forefront of myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) care and research.

Azra Raza, MD, director of the Columbia University MDS program, has been treating MDS patients for 30 years. She is a world leader in understanding and treating this disease.

We are a designated national Center of Excellence by the Myelodysplastic Syndromes Foundation. And we are a leader in MDS clinical trials and investigational therapies.

The MDS Program

The Columbia MDS program takes a comprehensive and multidisciplinary team approach to MDS. Your care team will include hematologists, pathologists, cytogeneticists, molecular biologists, and clinical and basic research experts. We specialize in:

  • Personalized therapy based on the patient’s own genetic blueprint
  • A unique understanding of how MDS progresses. Our longitudinal studies show how MDS manifests in different patients, helping us to determine the best way to manage each stage and each unique form of the disease
  • Opportunities to participate in clinical trials—many of them designed by our physicians—offering access to the most advanced and innovative treatments
  • Ongoing research into the origin of the MDS, and the microenvironment in which abnormal cells first begin to grow—research that may lead to potential cures.

We also support each person with MDS through patient support services:

  • Nurse navigators to guide you through every step of diagnosis and treatment
  • Medical advice on lifestyle, exercise, diet, and nutrition
  • Psychological counseling and support groups
  • Consultations on pain management
  • Patient web portals offering easy access to test results, appointments, and follow-up care
  • Integrative therapies for cancer

One of the World’s Largest Tissue Banks

The Columbia MDS Program has made new inroads in the treatment of this complex illness. Dr. Raza has assembled the largest longitudinal database in the world, with more than 50,000 tissue samples from more than 5,000 MDS patients. We are now mining this data to learn how MDS progresses or goes into remission.

Advances in Genetic Testing

Using advanced gene sequencing techniques, we can pinpoint where a handful of parent stem cells go off track. This lets us identify rogue cells that lead to MDS, then target them with medicine.

Our researchers identified five genetic mutations associated with poor survival rates. Now, leading US genomics labs are offering this to all patients, and it’s covered by Medicare and most insurance companies.

Defining the Origins of MDS

Our researchers are pioneers in understanding MDS’s complex biology.

  • Siddhartha Mukherjee, MD, studies the microenvironment where MDS cells begin to grow.
  • Stavroula Kousteni, PhD, identified a mutation in the microenvironment cells of mice that leads to MDS and acute myeloid leukemia. More than a third of MDS patients in our tissue bank have the same abnormalities, with certain proteins that can be targeted.

Knowing how MDS starts enriches our clinical practice and helps to improve outcomes and quality of life for people with the disease.