Counteracting MPN Fatigue and Finding Adequate Rest

Counteracting MPN Fatigue and Finding Adequate Rest from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

MPN Network Manager Summer Golden who lives with myelofibrosis, and her care partner Jeff, discuss how they handle her fatigue. From tracking sleep on smartwatches to choosing optimal dinner and travel times — they do not let fatigue boggle them down. Watch as Summer shares her personal experience with fatigue and provides tips to overcome. 

“We challenge you to find a way to make changes in your life that you get adequate rest. It’s really, really important.” 

 Want to connect with Jeff and Summer? Email them at

MPN Treatment: Why Testing for Mutations Matters

MPN Treatment: Why Testing for Mutations Matters from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Testing for mutations can influence treatment options available to patients with MPNs and provide a more in-depth understanding into their essential thrombocythemia (ET), polycythemia vera (PV) or myelofibrosis (MF) diagnosis. MPN specialist, Dr. Srdan Verstovsek reviews three key mutations that may impact treatment timing and approaches.

Dr. Srdan Verstovsek is Chief of the Section for Myeloproliferative Neoplasms in the Department of Leukemia at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Verstovsek, here.

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Dr. Srdan Verstovsek:

So, what we know is that ET, PV, and MF, these are these three, and we will use the abbreviations for simplicity, are so-called classic myeloproliferative neoplasms. Myeloproliferative means that it is disease of the bone marrow where cells grow without control.

Now, with ET we have high platelets, but ET is the disease of all the cells. In PV you have high red blood cells, and in many patients you have high white cells and platelets. In myelofibrosis, it’s paradoxically many patients present with too few cells because of reactive bone marrow fibers or fibrosis that limits the growth of the cells.

So, these are the three diseases that have underlying problem, same problem in these three conditions, which is high activity of proteins inside the bone marrow cells, proteins inside the bone marrow cells.

A cascade of protein that makes cells grow without control. We call this a JAK-STAT pathway. I had patients; they say JAK-STAT highway. It’s active all the time. This is a protein JAK too, and then the JAK2, and then other, so we call it JAK-STAT pathway.

It’s super active. Active in normal person when we need to make blood, but in the diseased person, active because of acquired mutations that affect that highway, JAK-STAT pathway or highway.

It makes it work all the time, that’s why we have so many cells. And there are three mutations, which are part of diagnostic process. You test for these. You can test in the blood or in the bone marrow sample, and these are JAK2 mutation, calreticulin mutation, and the MPL mutation.

They are almost always exclusive of each other, and about 90 – 95 percent of patients will have one or the other. They are still very few patients that have none of these three, which is interesting. And we are, in others, looking for other reasons in these few patients.

 But one of the three is present, and it’s part of the diagnostic process as well. I didn’t emphasize this before, but it is present as a part of the bone marrow evaluation. That’s where it goes. And it is therefore, helpful to test for it. But one can test for other mutations. Many patients have many other mutations that have nothing to do with the JAK-STAT pathway, and that in large part is responsible why people have different disease ET, PV, or myelofibrosis. We explain this that way because of other genetic abnormalities, other abnormalities that we cannot really describe yet.

Genetic is not the whole picture. There are other parts, I’m sure, in bone marrow environment, in other factors they control the genetic expression, and so on, that contribute why a patient with JAK-STAT hyperactivity has ET, and why another has myelofibrosis.

We don’t really fully understand that. And of course, there is a plethora of patients in between that are not all the same. So, genetics do carry a lot of weight in what happens with the patients, and we do test for that, in addition to testing for JAK2, calreticulin MPL. We test for multiple others. That’s routinely done in academic center. It’s very valuable, and it should be standard practice.

The main utility of widespread testing for additional mutations is to assess the prognosis of the patients. If we are looking at the bone marrow blood chemistry and physical exam, a splenomegaly, and presence of this driver mutation, the JAK, calreticulin or MPL.

We call them driver mutations. They drive that highway. If that is the complexity of the diagnosis, then the next step is, as you remember, the patient will say, “How long I’m gonna live?” Well, obviously, that information comes from the historical experience, and I always emphasize that. But there is valuable information from historical perspective to some intelligence to tell the patients what to expect in general terms.  Since the introduction of the genetic testing in academic centers, we have enhanced our ability to prognosticate. Initially, ten or more years ago, we would be looking at the age of the patients, how the patient fares, the symptoms, the anemia, or white blood cell count, or blasts.

These would be kind of common prognostic factors for assessment of the outcome of the patients. But now, we add information on the presence of one or the other of the driver mutations, and the presence of the number and types of these other additional, which call them somatic mutations that have nothing to do with JAK-STAT pathway.

And you can see now how the prognostication also has the flavor of complexity, and it is really not that easy, and we keep moving forward. That prognostication effort is keep moving to assess the outcome of the patients better and better for one particular reason.

If we have we a sense that a patient, based on this prognostic scoring systems, have a poor outcome, which we define as the life expectancy less than five years, then that patient should be referred to the [stem cell] transplant.

And transplant should be done because the benefit of a cure, and the risk of dying through transplant procedure – unfortunately, that’s the reality, is just justifiable if the prognostic scoring system tells you that the life expectancy is less than five years.

That’s the main role for the genetic complexity testing. Looking also at the chromosomes that might be broken. That’s done on a bone marrow sample. And dividing patients in prognosis scoring groups to guide the decision making on the transplant.  

Should MPN Patients be Retested for Genetic Mutations Over Time?

Should MPN Patients be Retested for Genetic Mutations Over Time? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

MPN expert, Dr. Srdan Verstovsek provides insight into what factors determine whether MPN patients should undergo additional bone marrow biopsies and genetic testing over time.

Dr. Srdan Verstovsek is Chief of the Section for Myeloproliferative Neoplasms in the Department of Leukemia at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Verstovsek, here.

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Dr. Srdan Verstovsek:

We already know, everybody knows, I would think, that the living tissue does change over time. And when a patients have doubt, I tell them, “Look, my hair has not been grey all my life.” Everybody laughs. That happens with the bone marrow biopsy results, right? They change over time because the bone marrow does change over time. It’s not the same, and if you have the disease, disease cells, let’s call them malignant cells, they may acquire new mutations as they divide. If they already have some mutations that they’re present at the time of diagnosis, they are actually more prone to get more of those mutations over time.

And so, it may then be wise, and that’s what your question is about, to occasionally test patients and see whether there’s any change. Not perhaps in the number of fibers, or number of different cells, but genetically are there any new mutations which would make that disease perhaps more aggressive.

Unfortunately, the situation with repeated testing is complicated by price of the test. The testing can be done on blood, but it’s very expensive. We’re talking about thousands of dollars, and it’s not justifiable at the moment to do that every six months, or once a year for example, to see about any change because, it may not change what we do. It requires a clinical change, not just a genetic change for one to do something different, and something different would be referral to a bone marrow transplant, sooner rather than later.

So, first of all, repetitive testing would be useful in patients that are borderline for the decision of the transplant, not in everybody, because that’s the only intervention that would be affected by that testing. And then, even in these situations, you would need to have a clinically relevant abnormalities beyond just a new mutations.

That means a bigger spleen, or losing weight, or having profound anemia now. So, what basically this comes down to is, we follow the patients closely, and when there is a clinically relevant change, that would ask for a bone marrow biopsy and genetic testing, then we can justify that, and then we change what we do. So, it is cumbersome to sit tight and wait for a change, I understand that, but that’s the reality at the moment.

Which Tests Are Necessary Following an MPN Diagnosis?

Which Tests Are Necessary Following an MPN Diagnosis? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

MPN expert, Dr. Srdan Verstovsek, explains why a bone marrow biopsy is essential following a myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) diagnosis and its role in confirming whether a patient has essential thrombocythemia (ET), polycythemia vera (PV) or myelofibrosis (MF).

Dr. Srdan Verstovsek is Chief of the Section for Myeloproliferative Neoplasms in the Department of Leukemia at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Verstovsek, here.

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Dr. Srdan Verstovsek:

By and large, we would like people to have a bone marrow biopsy done. In fact, I would say that myelofibrosis cannot be diagnosed without a bone marrow biopsy. Polycythemia vera, in occasional cases, can be diagnosed without the bone marrow biopsy, even by the national guidelines. And essential thrombocythemia, I would say, that should have, although that is not norm in clinical setting, a bone marrow biopsy as a part of the disease diagnostic process.

This is to say that the diagnosis of any of these three conditions, ET, PV, or myelofibrosis, does not depend solely on the bone marrow biopsy.

I’ll give you an example of the myelofibrosis. You have to have a biopsy that shows abnormalities in different cells in the bone marrow. Megakaryocytes are the key. So, cells are different in number, size,shape, and colors, and you have fibers. Sometimes you don’t even have a fibers. But then, you have to combine this.

Maybe, abnormalities in blood cell count. In the blood chemistry there is an LDH, lactate dehydrogenase chemistry test that usually is tested for. And then, you have a physical exam, enlargement of the spleen. And the type of the white cells in the blood. So, you have a combination of the bone marrow, blood chemistry test, and the physical exam that all have to come together for diagnosis to be made for myelofibrosis.

I always ask my fellow, and doctors in training, who actually makes the diagnosis? It’s the clinician. If you just look at the bone marrow, you may say there is myeloproliferative neoplasm and there are some fibers, but you have to have these other factors to make a diagnosis of myelofibrosis. And fibers, for example, do not really say that the patient has myelofibrosis. Fibers can be present in PV, polycythemia vera, in 20 percent of the patient at the time of diagnosis of PV.

So, fibers on its own doesn’t mean myelofibrosis. Of course, there are other diseases that can cause fibers, other bone marrow diseases that have nothing to do with myelofibrosis or polycythemia vera.

So, it is rather complex problem, and it is not easy to make a diagnosis. We actually looked at that, and 15 percent of the patients that come through the door here at MD Anderson, have a change in diagnosis after our own assessment. So, some experience does count, I would say does counts a lot, because of complexity.

MPNs and Coronavirus: What Patients Should Know

MPNs and Coronavirus: What Patients Should Know from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Dr. Srdan Verstovsek provides guidance for patients with myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) related to coronavirus (COVID-19), stressing the necessity of continued communication with their healthcare team.

Dr. Srdan Verstovsek is Chief of the Section for Myeloproliferative Neoplasms in the Department of Leukemia at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Verstovsek, here.

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Dr. Srdan Verstovsek:

When we come to the COVID pandemic here, and the effect on our patients with myeloproliferative neoplasms, of course, that is something that is very serious. Our patients, particularly those with advanced myelofibrosis, are at a high risk of having complications from infection if they get infection. Perhaps less so for patients with ET and PV, which are more healthier, if you like, although they have myeloproliferative neoplasms.

So, our focus here is, first of all, like it is for anybody else, including myself, on prevention.

Obviously, that would be common sense and logical to try to prevent getting infected. And then, also to try to be in best possible health. Taking medications as prescribed. Being in touch with your doctor. If you cannot come to a physical exam, which is understandable because of possible increased risk through the transportation perhaps, then being in touch through telemedicine. We call, and we see our patients online. That is fine. We can do the bloodwork from the distance.

So, taking medications, being fit, and being as healthy as you can with the disease. But taking medications and controlling your risks, not allowing disease to take ahold of you, and then you get infection and you’re gonna be in trouble.

So, really communications with the doctors, taking medications, and I would say, occasional, with all precautions, visits.

Because, for example, with myelofibrosis patients, I really need to feel that spleen and the liver and see how is the patient’s weight, and not only ask over the telephone, what’s your symptoms are, or what your blood count is. I can see this on the computer. We really need, occasionally, myelofibrosis patients to come over to our clinic to be examined.

And here, in the clinic, we have extraordinary precautions. No visitors. No people to accompany patients in. So, to minimize any interactions with anybody who possible can bring any undesirable infections through the door, not just COVID, but any other. And the staff is prepared to provide excellent care with protection that is in place.

So, I think that will be my message: Prevention; staying on top of your disease; being in best possible shape with the disease; staying in touch with your doctor; and, occasionally, still visit the doctor if at all possible, particularly for myelofibrosis patients.

An Expert Shares Key Steps to Take Following an MPN Diagnosis

An Expert Shares Key Steps to Take Following an MPN Diagnosis from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

MPN expert, Dr. Srdan Verstovsek, provides essential advice for patients that are newly diagnosed with essential thrombocythemia (ET), polycythemia vera (PV) and myelofibrosis (MF).

Dr. Srdan Verstovsek is Chief of the Section for Myeloproliferative Neoplasms in the Department of Leukemia at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Learn more about Dr. Verstovsek, here.

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Dr. Srdan Verstovsek:

Obviously, it’s very stressful for any patient to be told that there was something wrong with their bone marrow. You’re talking about myeloproliferative neoplasms; these are neoplasms of the bone marrow. And one would like to first make sure that the diagnosis is correct. So, if there is any doubt, second opinion is always very good to do.

And I tell my patients come to me as a first doctor, if they have concerns, ask me questions. If they wanna go for a second opinion, please go.

The second is understand what this diagnosis means. For prognosis, for the lifestyle, educate yourself. Be educated about what this means because it’s lifelong disease. We hardly ever cure anybody. It is possible in some cases with a bone marrow transplant, but in general, this is life-long condition, any of this Myeloproliferative Neoplasms.

And then, number three, involve your family or friends. Family in particular, because caregivers needs to be informed what this means for you if there is any effect on your quality of life or on longevity. So, don’t leave the disease alone. So, these would be my three points to make people aware of what this all means when you have MPN.

Verify, educate, and share that knowledge and experience.  

MPN Patient and Care Partner Share the Importance of Staying Positive and Setting Goals

MPN Patient and Care Partner Share the Importance of Staying Positive and Setting Goals from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

In the midst of a crisis, it’s quite difficult to set goals. With so much changing rapidly, how can we keep focus?

PEN MPN Network Managers Jeff and Summer share tips for tapping into resilience, keeping focus and setting goals. Both share their rituals for staying focused and having fun.

Want to connect with Jeff and Summer? Email them at

Ask the MPN Expert – Dr. Joseph Scandura

Ask the MPN Expert – Dr. Joseph Scandura from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

MPN specialist Dr. Joseph Scandura from Weill Cornell Medicine answers patients’ burning questions.


Greetings from southern California. I’m Andrew Schorr from Patient Power. Welcome to this Patient Empowerment Network program where you can ask an MPN expert your question. I’ve been living with an MPN, a myeloproliferative neoplasm myelofibrosis, since 2011. So, believe me, I have questions and I want answers just like you. I want to thank the Incyte Corporation for its financial support, but tell you, of course, that all the editorial control is our expert and our producers and me. Nobody tells us what to ask or what to say.

Okay, let’s meet today’s MPN expert. Joining us from New York City is Dr. Joseph Scandura. He is with Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City and he is also the scientific director of the Richard T. Silver Myeloproliferative Neoplasm Center at Weill Cornell Medicine. Dr. Scandura, welcome and welcome back to Patient Power. We’ve had you before. Thanks for being with us.

Dr. Scandura:
Thanks for having me, Andrew.

Okay, and I should mention that Dr. Scandura is a physician-scientist, so you can see that whiteboard behind him. He spends time in the lab, as well as seeing patients, in-patients, and in clinic. So, he is meeting us, but also working on a cure and we’re gonna talk more about that and hopefully, we can get there. Okay, are you ready for our first question Dr. Scandura?

Dr. Scandura:
All set.

Okay. So, this one comes from Philip who writes and he says, “I’m a 63-year-old male with PV, polycythemia vera. What does it mean that my blood is too thick?”

Dr. Scandura:
What it’s probably referring to, the term too thick is a little bit – can be generalized in a lot of different directions. It’s a colloquial term, not really a medical term, but what people often are referring to there in the context of polycythemia vera is too many red blood cells. If you think of the blood vessels in your body as being highways, they can only accommodate a certain amount of traffic. And you being in southern California are probably aware of this, that sometimes there’s too many people trying to get on the highway at the same time and that slows everything down. You could consider the highways too thick in that situation and that’s what’s really happening in polycythemia vera.

There’s too many red blood cells. There’s about 1,000 red blood cells for every of the white blood cells there, so the most common blood cell type and they occupy about half of the whole blood volume. And when you have too many being produced, they end up causing traffic jams in the blood vessels and that is what people are trying to describe when they’re saying the blood is too thick.

And you’re at risk for stroke and blood clots?

Dr. Scandura:
Yeah. So, it has a lot of both short-term and long-term consequences. Short-term certainly it provides a risk of having abnormal blood clots. That can be in an artery, so that could be a stroke, an artery in your brain, or an artery in your heart, a myocardial infarction or heart attack. It can also be a clot in a vein and so these, I’m sure you’ve seen them on TV, the advertisements for DVT or deep venous thrombosis or pulmonary embolism which is usually a clot in a vein that then has broken off and traveled through the circulation and landed in the lung where it can cause symptoms there. And so, the short-term risks of a clot are certainly elevated in people with polycythemia vera when the blood counts aren’t controlled.

Okay. Just one follow up question. Philip was wondering about this too. So, we see ads on TV whether it’s the DVT medicine ads or the blood thinner ads. Does that apply to people with PV?

Dr. Scandura:
It can. We treat people with PV to reduce the risk of a clot, but some people are diagnosed with a clot at the same time they’re diagnosed with PV and some people, even with the best of treatment, end up developing a clot. If it’s a clot in the vein, then one of the things that is a standard of care is to administer drugs that colloquially again are referred to as blood thinners. In this context, it has a different meaning and this is a group of drugs that interfere with the blood clotting system. So, these are proteins, not cells, and it’s what – if you ever have cut yourself and you feel just with your fingers, it gets a little sticky between the fingers. That’s actually clotting.

It’s a little bit like Jell-O. It starts out liquid and then it solidifies and that’s what your body does to help prevent bleeding. It forms this sort of polymer fiber that ends up being part of the plug. And what the blood thinning medications, the so-called blood thinning medications, do is they interfere with that process. Either given by injection or given by pill, the ultimate goal is to reduce the formation of that sort of sticky acellular clot. And that’s more of a treatment and can be a preventative for future clots as well, but it’s a little different than what we were talking about before in terms of too thick blood from too many red blood cells.

Too many cells versus the quality of the cells.

Dr. Scandura:
Yeah, but not even the cells. A lot of the blood clotting factors are produced by your liver. They’re not from the cells themselves that are floating around in the blood.

Andrew: I’ve never understood that before. So, thanks for explaining. I should also just say one thing about Philip. He shared with us that he has AFib. So, when somebody, and that’s not uncommon atrial fibrillation, does that complicate all the treatment for somebody with PV?

Dr. Scandura:
Well, one of the risks with AFib, some of them can be just related to the heart, it can disturb a little bit in how the heart functions and if people have some mild symptoms, AFib can make symptoms worse just from a heart function standpoint. But one of the things that’s related to, again some of the commercials you see on TV and the rationale for blood thinners, is the heart – the atrium, the left atrium which is really what fibrillates, which is just – normally the heart is pumping like this, all together coordinated. And what fibrillation means is it’s sort of not doing that. It’s going like this and what happens is the blood and the surface of the heart ends up not being pushed out normally.

And sometimes actually clots can form on the surface of that fibrillating heart and then when they get pushed out, they can travel. And because it’s usually the left atrium where this happens, when they travel they go into the arteries and then they can form clots and that can be stroke is the big thing people worry about. So, you can have atrial fibrillation that puts you at risk for stroke and that’s why people think about anti-coagulation medications to prevent that risk. And so, again, that’s another rationale for blood thinner, although it has nothing to do with the blood being too thick. It has to do with atrial fibrillation itself.

Okay. So, two things going on. Here’s a question we got in from Julie. Julie says, “What is the significance of a very low allele burden in a JAK2 positive patient?” And may you could define allele for us too.

Dr. Scandura:
Sure. So, as you know, we have some of our genes from mom and some of our genes from dad and the genes that we get are always in these two copies. And so, one copy from mom, one copy from dad, and they’re mixed and matched while we’re being sort of grown up from the embryo. But what happens in MPN is sometimes one of those copies, always starts with one of them, becomes mutated and that can be for instance, in the most common mutation, in the JAK2 gene, JAK2 V617F, a particular mutation that’s associated with abnormal function of the JAK2 gene product. And so, if we have just one copy in a cell, then one copy’s normal and one copy is mutant.

So, if we are talking about that one cell, that variant allele frequency, so that’s the abnormal gene. The proportion of all the genes that are abnormal would be 50%. Right? One abnormal, one normal. But now we think about all of the blood cells, trillions upon trillions of blood cells and then we have to take sort of an average of all of those cells. Some of them will be normal, some of them will be MPN cells, some of them will have one copy normal, one abnormal, some two abnormal, and some both normal. And so, when we look in a composite from a blood draw which is generally what people are sending, it’s a representation of how many abnormal alleles are present among all of the alleles of all of the DNA from the blood cells that’s been selected.

So, what a low variant allele frequency means that the proportion of mutant alleles in that sample of your blood is low. So, low would be maybe 10% or 5% or something like that and what is the significance of that? It’s an area a little bit of some debate, but there’s certainly a number of studies that have shown a correlation between the variant allele frequency in blood and the disease type itself. So, for instance, essential thrombocythemia, or ET, generally has a lower bearing allele frequency than myelofibrosis for the same mutation. And polycythemia vera is often in between.

While we’re talking about genes, I just wanted to bring in this question from Jocelyn because we’ve been learning are we JAK2 positive, are we CALR positive, these others that you’ve been discovering. So, Jocelyn said, “In 2006 I tested positive for JAK2 V617F. In 2018 I was told that I’m not JAK2V617F positive, but that I’m CALR positive. So, is it common for mutations to change and what does it mean?”

Dr. Scandura:
So, it’s not common for the mutations to change in terms of going away if they’re present, although there are certainly examples of this happening. It’s not common. What is probably a little bit more common is sometimes people have one mutation or a couple mutations and then sometimes more mutations are found later. And that often, not always, is linked to the disease changing its character itself. So, somebody with polycythemia vera having more of a fibrotic phase of the disease. In this situation, it’s a little hard to know exactly what happened, but there is a fair amount of variability from one laboratory or one test type to another in terms of sensitivity and the specificity of what is being detected.

So, JAK2 may have been at a very, very low level, could have been an erroneous measure, or it could have been at a relatively low level and the calreticulin mutation wasn’t tested for. And then later somebody retested with a different test that wasn’t sensitive enough to pick up the JAK2 mutation and they looked for a CALR and now that’s coming up positive.

So, the testing modality, the type of test that’s being done, and its individual sensitivity is an important part of this story and it’s a little hard, I think even for many physicians, to sort of get their heads around because it’s not like a blood count where you have international standards and basically a half-dozen equipment makers everybody uses across the world. There’s a lot of different technologies, each of which have little wrinkles to them that can limit somewhat exactly what’s being reported.

Okay. Here’s another one we got. This was actually asked by several people. Nick, Maggie, and Philip all want to know related to phlebotomy. What are the goals of phlebotomy as a treatment and how does it work and when do you know when it’s time to switch from phlebotomy to medication?

Dr. Scandura:
Right. So, I just came from a conference the end of the week and this is a topic of debate among physicians. When, whether to do phlebotomy? Whether phlebotomy therapy by itself is sufficient? What are the alternatives and when to make those decisions? I would say, I can tell you what my own feeling is. I feel that there is good support to justify that, but to be totally honest, there are physicians who feel differently than I do and I don’t know if any of us can claim to be absolutely correct. But I think we can all agree that the goal of phlebotomy in the short term is basically to take cars off the highway.

If you go back to the analogy of having too many cars on the highway causing thickened blood or this sludging from the red blood cells, this is a therapy specific to polycythemia vera, is that phlebotomy is just a very simple way of taking blood out of the system, taking cars off the highway. So, if you were to imagine and I frequently imagine this in New York City, is all of the sudden a third of the cars disappeared, it’d be a lot easier to get around. And so, that’s really what the goal of phlebotomy is, is to make it a little easier on your body to pump the blood around because there’s less resistance to having all that traffic in the vessels. How much? Go ahead, you had a question.

I was just gonna say, but debate about when to leave phlebotomy behind and have medication try to do the job when you prove one or others that may be coming.

Dr. Scandura:
So, I think the first goal is to get people under what would be considered control. So, an adequate level of traffic. And the numbers that are generally accepted by people in the field is having a hematocrit, that’s the portion of blood occupied by red blood cells, in males it’s below 45% and in females below 42%. Although we can all argue about that a little bit. I think people settle down around those numbers.

When is too much? My personal feeling and this is where there isn’t great data, so you’re left with opinion, but my personal feeling is it depends a little bit on the patient, the convenience, and I find that people who are getting phlebotomy more than four or five times a year, it ends up being a real burden on them in terms of the amount of time that they’re having, poor control of their polycythemia vera, and the amount of time required for phlebotomy, and the amount of risk of things like iron deficiency which can cause symptoms.

And then there’s some suggestion, I wouldn’t say great data, that maybe iron deficiency or repeated phlebotomy may be a risk in the long term, although I think that data is not very clear. My biggest determinant is patients, in my experience, just get a little fed up with getting phlebotomy when it gets above four, five, six times a year.

Okay. Thank you for that. I should mention to our audience again if you want to send in a question, whether we can use it on this program or a whole bunch we’ll be doing coming up, send it to Okay, so here’s a question we got from Nick and all of us wonder about it. How often or do we need bone marrow biopsies so that you, as our doctor, and we are well informed about what’s going on?

Dr. Scandura:
So, another area where there isn’t – you know, in medicine we look for the perfect data. We’ve controlled – we treated one group of very similar patients one way, we’ve treated another group of people another way, and we compare and see who does better. What’s the better approach? This hasn’t been done for how often to check bone marrow. I think bone marrow evaluation is very important. Personally, I generally follow how the patient is doing as the primary determinant and if there are any signs that something is changing. And those signs can be how the patient is feeling, new symptoms that are arising, but oftentimes it can be just in how the blood counts are responding.

You’re on a stable dose of a medication for several years and all of a sudden it stops working or all of sudden it starts working too well. You have very low blood counts whereas before you were okay. That suggests to me something’s changing. The bone marrow is the factory for all the blood cells. So, if you wanna know what’s happening with the production in the factory you really have to look into the factory and see what’s going on. And so, that’s my personal threshold for doing a bone marrow, when I’m seeing something that’s suggesting that the factory is not functioning the way it was the last time I looked.

Okay. And for those of us who’ve had many bone marrow biopsies, and I have, hopefully where it’s done is someone who does it frequently. Usually, the anxiety we have is worse than the exam itself. It takes 15, 20 minutes, whatever and someday I’ll tell you the story of the lady down at MD Anderson who believed in voodoo and talked to the bone marrow as she was pulling it out. And it was so weird, that I was so distracted, I didn’t feel a thing, but anyway I understand it’s important.

Here’s a question that will help our friends with ET. This is from Michelle. She says – well actually now she has post-ET myelofibrosis. She says she has ASXL1 and TP53 gene mutations. Does the mere existence of these predict aggression and poor outcome? That’s what she worries about that those have been found.

Dr. Scandura:
Well, obviously every individual has their own history that they’re developing and so exactly what this means for you, for an individual, is different than what it would mean for a population of people with similar mutations. That’s really what we know in medicine. We look at people in a cross section and we say people who we can put into this bin tend to behave in that way, but within that bin, there are individuals who don’t act that way, the way that the others do. So, I would in myelofibrosis, in MDS, in polycythemia vera, P53 mutations are an area of some concern, as is ASXL1 mutations are also an area of some concern.

In ET it’s less well established and so I think because, if this was just ET and you had those mutations, I think many people, myself included, would say well, maybe we don’t know perfectly, but it is an area of some concern. I’m gonna keep a closer eye on you. Now that it has already evolved into myelofibrosis, I would say this is probably more like myelofibrosis where we know that P53 mutations, TP53 mutations, and ASXL1 mutations, can sometimes be some of the harder ones for us to treat. It’s something that, if an allogenic transplant is something that is possible, should at least be considered and discussed.

It doesn’t – speaking with a transplanter, getting typed doesn’t mean you have to get a transplant, but it gives you information and so I think that that would be a reasonable thing to do. Again, the decision at the end, it may not be the right decision for you, but it is something that is information for you to use in making informed decisions.

Right. I did have a consultation with Dr. Castro, who was at the time here in San Diego, exactly about that. Not to take action, but just to have the relationship and be typed, et cetera. Here’s a question we got from Paul. He says, “I was diagnosed in 2009. I take a weekly dose of 90 mg of interferon. How long can a patient continue to take interferon and what indicates a move to change treatment?”

Dr. Scandura:
So, we have people who have been treated for 20 plus years with interferon. So, I don’t know if there is a known duration which is too much. For many patients it’s a very well tolerated therapy, can be quite effective, and I think that it is one of the few medications that seems to have some disease-modifying activity. However, when to change? If it looks like it’s not working, it’s time to think about changing and that can be adjusting the dose, but I think if somebody has been on it for a long while, that’s when I think thinking about additional therapy, either adding another medication to the interferon or changing completely to a different medication.

Clinical trials, there’s a lot of activity in MPNs in clinical trials. Thankfully, over the past five years or so, it’s really been increasing. There’s a lot of options. There’s some drugs that we’re really pretty excited about right now in terms of thinking they might have some nice activity and talking to somebody about what might be a suitable treatment for you if the interferon was not working anymore.

Okay. Here’s a – again we’re getting similar questions from a number of people. So, Ragita, Nankin, Raven if I’m saying the name right, and Jacquelin sent in basically this question. How common is it in patients with MPNs to have bone pain? What causes it? Is there anything that can help with the pain?

Dr. Scandura:
So, bone pain is always on the list of symptoms reported by patients with myeloproliferative neoplasms. I wouldn’t say, in my experience, it’s one of the more common ones. It might be a little bit more common early in disease. Sometimes things like phlebotomy that you can actually have a rebound where the bone marrow is a little bit revved up to try to replace all those cells that were taken out, that can cause some bone pain. It can be seen in myelofibrosis occasionally and sometimes when the disease is becoming more aggressive or is having a – changing its pace. But the cause of bone pain, we think of as being related to sort of expansile pain.

So, the bone marrow, the factory for all the blood cells, sometimes is just working so hard that it causes, it irritates the bone fibers that are around the surface of the bone. There’s very little in the way of pain fibers inside the bone, but on the surface of the bone you have a lot and that expansile pain, that gives that sort of vague, achiness people often describe as bone pain. The treatment for bone pain in some ways is determined by what the cause is. If it’s just, for instance, a rebound after phlebotomy, it can last a day or two and then go away. And so, short-term symptomatic treatment with non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, NSAIDs like Motrin, can be helpful or Tylenol even.

But occasionally patients report a real benefit from things like histamine blockers which the mechanism for that is entirely unknown, but there’s certainly a population of patients who feel like the bone pain has gone away with medications like Claritin you can get over the counter. It’s worth a try. They are very well tolerated medications and not all patients have any symptomatic benefit, but a subset of people do. If the bone pain is related to the cells being too active, a very proliferative feature of the disease, sometimes it dictates treatment.

So, if you were on phlebotomy alone, well maybe it’s time to change to a more cytoreductive therapy and see if that can help with the pain. Sometimes it prompts additional evaluation. If you’ve never had bone pain, all of a sudden the blood counts are a little different, you have bone pain, it might be something somebody would think about doing a bone marrow evaluation for. Again, looking in the factory which is probably where the cause is coming from.

I have a couple more topics I want to cover just before we close. We’ll go just a little bit longer if that’s okay. So, Robert wrote in and said, “How does a stem cell transplant cure myelofibrosis?”

Dr. Scandura:
So, I’ll go back to that factory analogy. If you think of the bone marrow as being sort of corrupted by these MPN cells. You have, normally this is a very orderly factory. It’s producing a number of different lines if you think of it as a car factory. You can be producing red blood cells maybe your sports cars, and your white blood cells, your infection-fighting cells, as sedans, and platelets as SUVs, but it’s all very orderly and it should be proceeding in a regular way. And you get MPNs and somebody has just turned up the volume and are just cranking out a lot of cells. And sometimes that production starts becoming abnormal too and that’s more like in a myelofibrotic setting.

And so, what is the point of a stem cell transplant is really to clear out that factory, get rid of all the workers in there, and replace them with completely different workers to come in, set up shop, clean up the factory, and start normal blood cell production. There’s another part of it is, it’s not just the blood cells, it’s actually the immune system. And so, you’re giving the recipient an entirely new immune system. You have to wipe out the old immune system to allow the new donor cells to get a hold in the bone marrow and then they have to be educated to sort of relearn how to fight off infections and to figure out who is who.
So, graft versus host is one of the complications where those cells from another person come into the recipient and say, “Ah, I don’t know you. I’m going to attack.” And so, that can be a problem. It can be a short-term problem. It can be a long-term problem. It can be mild and it can be severe, but there’s another edge of that sword which is what we think of as graft versus leukemia effect, or in this case it would be graft versus MPN effect where some of those donor cells recognize the little differences between them and the MPN cells and wipe them out. And so, that’s really what you’re trying to do is allow that new immune system to find the bad actors and wipe them out.

Okay. You touched on something I think we’ve got to ask about and that is people are hearing in the blood cancers now the experimental and in some cases an approved approach called CAR-T, chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy, but again immunotherapy to train the T-cells to fight your ailment. What do you think about that in MPNs? Does it have promise?

Dr. Scandura:
I mean, it definitely has promise. It’s been a challenge in myeloid disease as a whole, so AML, MDS, MPNs have not been the first diseases where this has been shown to be successful, more lymphomas where it has had a lot of traction and some nice responses. What it really is it’s a living drug and this can be done in a couple different ways. They can be cells from yourself that then are treated in the laboratory so that they start recognizing these immune cells. You start tricking them into saying, “I’m going to attack this particular thing.” Even though they weren’t really trained to do that, they are now being tricked into doing that.

And so, in a disease like a B-cell lymphoma, most of them express a particular protein that’s on B-cells, CD19. So, if you take these CAR-T cells and you say, “Well, go out and kill everything you see that has CD19 on it”, it will wipe out a lot of those lymphoma cells. In myeloid diseases like MPNs, it’s a little harder. The targets are not so clear-cut and they’re shared with normal cells. There’s one area where I think it has the most promise is calreticulin because the mutation in calreticulin isn’t a tiny little mutation. It’s a mutation that causes a whole new end of the protein that doesn’t exist in the body otherwise.

And some of the calreticulin actually gets onto the surface of the cells so it’s displayed to the immune system, and so this is an area where I think there’s some promise for CAR-T cells to target those calreticulin mutant cells. There may be other targets as well and I think we’ll learn as time goes along. People are trying to target molecule CD123 which is expressed on certain abnormal stem cells. The problem is it’s expressed at relatively low levels on those cells. It’s also expressed on normal cells and it’s expressed at higher levels on much more common cells. So, it makes it a somewhat imperfect target, and also difficult from a drug standpoint because there’s a lot of people wearing the same mask, only some of them you want to kill. So, it can be a problem.

Okay. You have quite the analogies. But, I’m just gonna ask you about two more questions and then we’re gonna have to go. This came in from Linda who says, “I am CALR positive and I have many symptoms. What causes vision symptoms for me and migraines? Can that be tracked to the CALR somehow?”

Dr. Scandura:
It’s common in a subset of people with MPNs. Sometimes it’s linked to the platelets themselves, to the white blood cell count, so I would certainly unless there’s a reason not to try aspirin, that’s something that can help with patients. It may also be an indication for cytoreductive therapy, so actually trying to lower the blood counts. I don’t know exactly what disease that Linda has, but it’s one that I would think is a symptom that would warrant therapy because it can be quite bothersome.

The vision changes is something that may be related to the migraines, but it’s also something that might prompt a visit to an ophthalmologist so they can actually look at the blood vessels in the back of the eye and sometimes what happens is you can have a little irritation of the blood vessels or even clots in those blood vessels and that’s something that would definitely trigger a change or new therapy.

Dr. Scandura, our audience is saying, “Please, one more question, one more question.” So, if I can a couple more. Philip said, “Is iron deficiency a new normal if you have PV and you’ll, therefore, have weakness, fatigue, maybe even some cognitive issues because of anemia as well?”

Dr. Scandura:
Yeah, so I sort of fall in the camp, as I mentioned before, there’s some debate in the field and I sort of fall in the camp that if you’re getting symptoms from iron deficiency, it might suggest that something other that phlebotomy could be beneficial or could relieve that symptom. Everybody, if you take enough blood out of them, is going to become iron deficient and, in fact, most people diagnosed with polycythemia vera, if tested, actually meet the criteria for iron deficiency, not because they actually don’t have enough iron in their body, but because all of the available iron is soaked up in making red blood cells. Red blood cells are red because of iron.

So, if you think about all of the iron in your body and all of the places it’s used for metabolism and everything else, there’s a lot of enzymes that actually use iron as part of their catalytic site. A large proportion of all of the iron in our body goes to making red blood cells. In polycythemia vera, that regulation is completely abnormal and you end up just making a lot of red blood cells that aren’t needed and it soaks up all the iron. Then when you start doing phlebotomy, you’re taking all of that extra iron and you’re taking it out, but the bone marrow still wants to try to make red blood cells. So, it continues to scavenge as much of the iron as it can.

So, iron deficiency is pretty common and if you need a lot of phlebotomies it’s universal. Some patients, in my experience, meet all the criteria for severe iron deficiency have very little in the way of symptoms. Others meet criteria for mild iron deficiency, but they’re quite symptomatic. And so, in those instances, you need to individualize a little bit. At least give a try to a different therapy and allow the iron stores to normalize and see if that improves the symptoms.

Okay. You used the word individualize and that’s where I wanted to wrap up. So, you alluded to earlier, that you were encouraged by new medicines coming for MPNs and you have your whiteboard behind you where you’re charting things and I hope, Joe, coming up with a cure of tomorrow for all of us. How encouraged are you in the near term and the longer term for beating back or even curing these diseases?

Dr. Scandura:
I think we’re gonna cure these diseases, I do. I don’t know if it’s gonna be this year, but I think that the number of tools we have to understand how these diseases work and the number of new drugs that are being developed that have real promise, like real mechanistic reasons why they should work, I think is going to yield, reap rewards over time. People have heard this for a long time. The war on cancer has been going on for a long time, but I think we didn’t have the tools that we have now for that entire duration. Right now, we can sequence a genome in a week of a person. Now, do you need to do that? No, but it allows you to get a level of information that was in the past, really just fantasy world, science fiction, and now it can be done on a routine basis.
There are, virtually all of our patients, have sequencing for 40 plus genes. It allows us to know a little bit more about what their risks are, and also gives us a spectrum of targets to start hitting. There’s models that are better than what we’ve had in the past for many of the cancers that have been targeted. Breast cancer models, you know, there’s some decent breast cancer models, but they’re very complex tumors. MPNs, for better or for worse, if you look at the spectrum of genetic complexity, they’re really pretty simple meaning that they have one to half a dozen mutations.

Now mutations aren’t the whole story, but it’s a good starting point and if you only have maybe 10, 15 genes that are currently mutated in a disease, it’s trackable. You can figure this out. You can figure out what they’re doing to allow them to win and once you know that, you start figuring out how to beat them back. And so, I think that their time is gonna come. I don’t know if it’s this year as I said, but I think it’s definitely doable.

You know, CML, when I was a kid, when I was in medical school my parents had a good friend with CML who died with CML. Now, it just wouldn’t have happened. He would have been fine, but he was on, for a long time, ineffective therapy, transformed to an acute leukemia as they all did, and then it becomes really untreatable. And now we have these magical drugs, semi-magical drugs, that for the vast majority of people just – it’s a pill a day. It’s amazing.

Well, you’ve got that work on your whiteboard and in the lab and your colleagues around the world and you had told me before the program started that you all are collaborating better now than ever before. So, Dr. Joseph Scandura from Weill Cornell in New York City, thanks for what you do as a physician-scientist and thanks for spending time with us today.

Dr. Scandura:
It was my pleasure and thanks for helping patients through what is a difficult ordeal I think in terms of adjusting to a diagnosis and getting information.

Well, thank you for joining us and Weill Cornell folks have been great and send our best to Dr. Silver too. He’s in his 90s and still going strong.

Dr. Scandura:
Yeah, he’s traveling today.

Thank you so much for being with us for this Patient Empower Network program. Thanks to Incyte for helping fund our series. We appreciate their commitment to the MPN community and as always, I just sign off by saying I’m Andrew Schorr and remember, knowledge can be the best medicine of all.

Ask the MPN Expert – Dr. Naveen Pemmaraju

Ask the MPN Expert – Dr. Pemmaraju

“Ask the Expert” session with MPN specialist Dr. Naveen Pemmaraju from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.


Andrew: And greetings from near San Diego, Carlsbad, California. I’m Andrew Schorr from Patient Power. Welcome to this patient empowerment network program, and thanks to Incyte Corporation for helping make it possible. They have no editorial control. I’m a myelofibrosis patient, have been for several years, so I’m vitally interested in this. Welcome to our MPN community, and welcome to one of our favorite experts joining us from MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. There’s Dr. Naveen Pemmaraju. You can see behind his desk there all the working on the cures of tomorrow, but Naveen, thank you so much for being with us.

Dr. Pemmaraju: Thanks for having me, Andrew. My pleasure.

Andrew: Okay. Let’s get right started. We’ve gotten all sorts of questions in. If you have a question, send it to, but we’ve gotten a lot already and I’ll start to buzz through them over the next 30 minutes. This question is from Cynthia and she says, “I was diagnosed with ET (Essential Thrombocythemia). I’m JAK2 positive,” so she has that JAK gene. “When I was 66 years old,” now she’s 68, I’m about to be 68 as well, “What markers on my blood work, asides platelets, are important for my doctor to watch? What indicates a need for another bone marrow biopsy?”

Dr. Pemmaraju: Well, thanks, Andrew. And thanks to the question from Cynthia out there. This is very important. This is what we talk about day-to-day, week-to-week in the clinic. There are a couple of perimeters outside of the platelets. One, I would say the most important for us to watch are the other of the big two. That’s your hemoglobin number, also known as anemia; if it’s too low, or polycythemia, if it’s too high, and then the white blood cell count is also very important. Again, if too high, or too low, it can tell us what’s going on.

With ET, the key thing is it can transform, or change into any of the other MPNs. For example, PV (polycythemia Vera), myelofibrosis, or – and I hate to mention it, but it does happen five, maybe seven percent of our patients, where the disease can go to Acute Myeloid Leukemia, AML. So, distinct blood count changes, either too high, or too low, can give us clues if the MPN is changing, or in fact, going to AML.

And so, the answer for a repeat bone marrow is based on that, which is, let’s look together, patient and provider to see if there are subtle or avert changes in the blood counts that are markedly different from the previous visit, rather than having a pre-prescribed, every three months, or every six months type of a deal.
Andrew: But, Naveen, with all you’re doing now with sophisticated testing, do you still have to poke us in the hip, or couldn’t they just do it from our arm?

Dr. Pemmaraju: I wish, Andrew. I think this is very important. I think with the juxtaposition, you have this sophisticated gene panel testing, JAK2 CALR, MPL, and yet we’re still sticking a needle in people’s backs in a very painful procedure. Nothing still has overmatched as the gold standard, the bone marrow aspiration biopsy. So, for now, we’re – pun intended, I guess – stuck with this procedure. But your point is a good one. For example, with bone marrow transplant, can you believe it nowadays, they’ve moved from not having to exclusively do it from bone marrow source to peripheral blood, so I think you’re on the right track and we need to work on different ways of accessing this important information.

Andrew: Okay. One thing about bone marrow biopsy, it doesn’t have to be painful. It’s uncomfortable, but it doesn’t have to be painful if you have somebody experienced doing it.

Dr. Pemmaraju: I wanna emphasize how right that is because at least here, at our center at MD Anderson, as you know, we have a team that is dedicated to doing it many, many people, many repetitions doing it, so there might be local discomfort, but a lot of our patients do not experience pain. I’m glad you brought that up.

Andrew: Right. And that’s been my experience both there, and at other major centers. Okay. Here’s a question from Denise. Denise says, “I have PV and I’m trying to improve my health by making smoothies containing large amounts of dark green vegetables, such as spinach, kale, and watercress. I’ve been warned by some members of our community that these foods will increase iron and raise the hematocrit, putting me at risk. Is that true? And should people with PV avoid these foods that are high in vitamin K?”

Dr. Pemmaraju: Well, this is an important question and I remember five to 10 years ago we would say things like, “Well, we don’t really know the answer,” or you know, “Diet doesn’t really have anything to do.” But now with more and more understanding of the total therapy for patients and approach to the whole body, I think this is an important question. So, yes, iron levels do matter. Too low, then you’re iron deficient. (That can definitely happen in our patients.) Too high, potentially may fuel the fire, if you will, for polycythemia Vera.

So, I think iron levels are important to watch and certainly can be increased by what our question is being asked about. But there’s another aspect, too, that some of the medications that we prescribe and take. One example is Coumadin, or Warfarin that a lot of our patients know, which is a high-level blood thinner. It’s an anticoagulant. And man, oh, man, that is exquisitely dependent on the vitamin K pathway. So sensitive, that in some patients in some cases even salad consumption, or spinach, so healthy foods because of the vitamin K level in them can alter this level. It’s called the INR. And so, it’s something we have to watch out for.

So, not only in terms of iron metabolites, but also drug-to-drug interactions. So, it is always best to mention these things when we’re going on new medications.

Andrew: Right. Talk to your doctor.

Dr. Pemmaraju: Talk to your doctor.

Andrew: What you’re doing –

Dr. Pemmaraju: Everything.

Andrew: – what you’re eating. Yeah. Okay. Here’s a question from Sally. Sally says, “I have ET with the MPL mutation. So, I have JAK, but there’s also MPL. I believe, not much is know about my mutation. Can you shed light on it, or me and our community here today?”

Dr. Pemmaraju: Yeah, great question. So, when I look at these mutations as the big three, I go back to the time of William Dameshek, who hypothesized in the ‘50s and ‘60s that MPNs would be a unified group of diseases; ET, PV, and MF. And now, 67 years later, we’ve proven that. So, JAK2, we’ve known about since 2005. The most common, most major recurring mutation, fifty to 60 percent of patients of myelofibrosis. Then in 2013, 2014 the CALR mutation was elucidated. Can you believe, that’s only been four, five years. That’s the second most common. But there’s a third of the big three. That’s the least common, the MPL; MPL mutation.

That’s a mutation in something called the thrombopoietin receptor (TPO), which is in charge of helping to stimulate and make platelets. So, in terms of MPN patients, it does make sense and it has something to do with platelets, and that axis. It is the least common; by far the less common of these three, so I would say maybe something to the point of three to seven percent of our patients will have it.
Up until recently, we didn’t know if it had any prognostic significance, but our Italian colleagues published a very nice paper in Blood a few years ago, independent of the IPSS risk, that I’m sure we’ll talk about later. That if you just take patients with myelofibrosis, not ET and PV, you can stratify our patients based on the mutation risk. And not everyone knows about this.

For example, in this scoring, CALR mutation alone is the best prognosis for our patients. JAK2, or MPL is what’s called an intermediate prognosis, and the so-called triple negative, if you don’t have any of these big three, the implication being that you likely have something else, like ASXL1, then those patients tend to have the worst prognosis. So, MPL helps us to diagnose and confirm an MF diagnosis, and it also may have prognostic significance in our modern era.

Andrew: Okay. I don’t want people to freak out because this is a moving target as they learn and say, “Oh, my god. I have triple negative…

Dr. Pemmaraju: That’s right.

Andrew: Right. Okay? Because there’s progress going on all the time.

Dr. Pemmaraju: Well said.

Andrew: This is what they’re learning now. Okay. Now. Here’s the big one and you mentioned it. You said, a small percentage of us with myelofibrosis have the risk of progressing to AML. I know there been a lot of new drugs now either approved, or in development for AML. And some that help people who have secondary AML.

Dr. Pemmaraju: Oh, yes.

Andrew: Right? But tell us about the risk of progression, and then what do you do about it?

Dr. Pemmaraju: Right. So, that’s a great topic, and as you know, you’ve been doing this for so long now. This has often been a very not great part of the conversation, but it’s an exciting time for our patients based on the research I’m about to share. So, the first part is progression to AML, which we touched on earlier. We do have an objective prognostics scoring system. Actually we have so many scoring systems now that many of our patients are starting to see them.

But the IPSS, or International Prognostics Scoring System, was first developed by our colleague, Cervantes et al, this is right before 2010, so ’07 to ’09. That one is supposed to be applied at diagnosis and based on five of these risk factors, we can prognosticate, or tell which of our patients are at a higher risk for AML. And so, a lot of our viewers ask that. So, it is true. Age – over a certain age, white count of 25,000, circulating blasts, constitutional symptoms, and anemia made up that original five.

Since that time, there are dynamic scoring systems, DIPSS, DIPSS+ and others that include, or modify as some of those risk factors. So, we can tell, at least based on a textbook impression, who has a higher likelihood of going to AML. Once our patients go to AML, there’s a lot of hope now. There have been four – count them – four new FDA approvals for AML in just the last 12-24 months. They apply to different segments of AMLs, two of them are targeted therapy, so one drug called Midostaurin hits the FLT3 inhibitor, one drug hits the IDH1 and 2. Actually those are two separate drugs.

The drug you were referring to had a code name CPX-351, or VYXEOS, and it does have an approved label for so-called secondary, or therapy-related AML. Although I will caution our viewers that – MPN patients, specifically, we’re not included in those early data sets. They were more geared towards patients with MDS leading to AML, but the principle is there for us.

And then finally there’s another drug called Gemtuzumab or Mylotarg. So, you have four FDA approvals, ongoing clinical trials with combination therapy, excitement and ongoing investigation for CAR-T cells, optimizing stem cell transplant, and then combining possibly MPN drugs with AML drugs in a clinical trial setting. So, I think this is actually a very, very important time to talk about AML in all of our MF and MPN sessions.

Andrew: Okay. Just one brief question, and – if someone like me, where I’m on Jakafi myself, but if that sort of poops out, or that, or another medicine is not working for me, and I’m developing AML, do you feel now it’s a more hopeful time than it’d had been previously?

Dr. Pemmaraju: I do, Andrew, and you know me. I used the word ‘hope’ very seriously and very carefully. Before with AML – and I mean, just five to seven years ago, it was not as hopeful of a time for us, as researchers, and for our patients. Not just because of the FDA approvals. That obviously is very encouraging and applies to a lot of our patients, but also because of the funding, the research, and the ideas for combination chemotherapies, and the emergence of these immune therapies. I think it’s a hopeful time for all of us involved with AML.

And specifically as you were mentioning this secondary, or post-MPN, or post-MDS AML, which is largely been an urgent unmet medical need.

Andrew: Okay. And just to everybody understands, AML, Acute Myeloid Leukemia, so it’s acute and as has been in the past a five alarm fire and now they’re developing medicines for that. All right. Let’s go on. Bonnie has a question. “I have myelofibrosis and my only symptom is that my spleen is enlarged. I’m on Hydroxyurea, but hesitant to switch to Jakafi or Ruxolitinib. Assuming no real discomfort and just moderate weight loss and stable blood counts, does an enlarging spleen itself cause problems?” And also, I guess the bigger question, Naveen is, is there a penalty for waiting if there is a treatment that might line up with what you got?

Dr. Pemmaraju: You’re right on. Yeah. This is very, very serious, important topic. So, for the first part of the question, the spleen itself being enlarged can in fact cause some really, really big problems for a lot of our patients. It is true, as the questioner’s asking, that one can have mild splenomegaly. So, a spleen that’s slightly enlarged, not yet causing physical symptoms of early satiety, which means getting full fast, or physical discomfort, but a lot of patients do have that. So, yes, a big spleen alone can cause not only local problems, but also systemic. Because again, it’s a disease of cytokines; messengers and proteins that are being scattered all throughout the body, causing the body to feel flu-like symptoms, or fatigue.

Now, the studies for Ruxolitinib are very specific. These are two Phase 3 studies, they are called Comfort 1 and 2, published in the New England Journal five six years ago now. And they did include patients with intermediate to, or high-risk disease. Or intermediate to high-risk disease, shall we say. And although the spleen itself doesn’t come out in the scoring system, some position is that it should be patients with more advanced, or higher scoring diseases than say someone with lower risk disease.

So, with the trial data that we have we know a couple of things. 1) The drug got approved in those more advanced patients. 2) There was early crossover that was allowed. So, one of the comfort studies, Andrew, was as you know, randomize to placebo. So, no active therapy, and one was best available therapy. Even with the early crossover allowed to the Ruxolitinib, both are not showing overall survival benefit. Translated into more layman’s terms, what that means is, it does appear, maybe, possibly, that if you got the drug at the beginning early on, there looks to have been some long-term benefit.

We won’t know that until further studies are done, and those studies are being planned. Those are called ‘early intervention’ studies, so people at a lower, earlier stage, low risk, Intermediate 1, and I think we’ll all be eager to see how that benefits our patients.

Andrew: Okay. Great. So, the penalty for waiting – right now it appears there could be a penalty. In other words, it could be better to get on it. Don’t wait. If you and your doctor agree, there’s a therapy for you.

Dr. Pemmaraju: I think that’s exactly the resource position to take, which is I think that – I believe that there are a subset of our patients who exactly fit what you said. They are symptomatic, out of proportion to the risk scores that are available. The spleen is highly enlarged, although they have lower intermediate risk by IPSS. And that’s exactly the are of investigation for myself, and our colleagues. And even in the clinic there might be some role to assessing patients as you said like that. So, it shows you the limitation of these text book scoring systems and how much research we have left to do.

Andrew: Okay. Well, you know more than you did before, so, I –

Dr. Pemmaraju: Well said.

Andrew: – I’m happy about that. Okay. So, here’s a question from Jane. She says, “I have myelofibrosis, but it’s not progressing, and I’m CALR negative.” So, that’s one. “I’m JAK negative.” That’s two. “And I’m waiting to hear if I’m actually triple negative, as you said, which would be JAK, CALR, and MPL. Are there medicines to slow progression for me?”

Dr. Pemmaraju: Well, that’s the ultimate question. Isn’t it? So, the first concept is this triple negative. And if our viewers have heard that before you have, that was borrowed from the breast cancer literature, which was a similar sentiment, which is having the top three markers negative. And just in that case, as in RMF, the supposition is the same, that that means that you have a higher risk disease.

But going from negative to positive, what it does mean now with the new sequencing and molecular studies that are coming out, is that it really looks like 90 percent, maybe even close to a 100 percent of patients, have some form of a molecular driver. And those other mutations you’re going to start to hear about are becoming common; ASXL1, TP53, EZH2, IDH, etc. etc. So, triple negative may mean that we don’t have those big three, but there might be something else that’s driving the MF, and it means that it’s a higher risk to progress to AML and for some patients to not do as well.

But this questioner brings up a very good point. What the textbook risk score says does not have to imply to each individual patients. So, just because the finding is that, okay. Triple negative patients as a population may do worse, it may not apply to that individual patient. So, in this person’s case, maybe they’ve been diagnosed very, very early. That’s a good thing. Maybe the driver mutations and the triple negative matter, which is what I think. So, ASXL1 mutation vs. some other ones.

And then finally, each patient is different. Everyone’s case is different. You have other co-morbidities, other underlying drivers of disease. So, I think that’s the good point. But, we do have to say, at least for right now, I like your phrase ‘of a moving target’. The understanding that if you are this triple negative disease in this classical sense, should mean that you are a higher risk at some point to progress, as compared to others in your group, and so, possibly closer monitoring and observation is necessary.

Andrew: Right. And see an MPN specialist. Because what if there’s a drug in development that’s an AS – What is it? AS –

Dr. Pemmaraju: ASXL1.

Andrew: Inhibitor. And that’s driving your bus. Right? Maybe you wanna be in that trial. [

Dr. Pemmaraju: Absolutely right. Clinical trials are important for all of our patients with any rare cancers, or any cancers in general.

Andrew: Right. Okay. Let’s go on. I just wanna take this question from Susan. It really rang true for me. Susan writes, “Is it common for an ET patient to experience numbness in the scalp, ears, and face? I’m currently on 1,500 milligrams of Hydrea daily.” And I wonder if you can broad this out because I was telling you before the program, I’m getting every once in a while – I wake up with a little prickliness. Not itchy, and I go back to sleep, but is that related to my MPN? So, she has scalp questions, is it the MPN, ET whatever? Is it the medicine?

Andrew: This is coming up in my clinic on a weekly basis. The short answer is, yes. It’s always due to the MPN. And I’m here to tell you why. This is an underappreciated part of what we do as healthcare providers in patients. For anyone who’s ever filled out the Myeloproliferative Neoplasm (MPN) Symptom Assessment Form Total Symptom Score:, developed by Ruben Mesa, his colleagues, now shortened down to a nice, nifty 10 ques – sheet. You know, actually, peripheral neuropathy is one of those 10 questions. Do you have numbness and tingling? So, even though we don’t talk about it, that’s our fault, peripheral neuropathy is a thing. It’s a common aspect of the MPN.

No. 2 is – and you brought this up to me nicely as well, is some of the mediations that we prescribe at the chemotherapeutic level can also cause nerve damage and neuropathy. JAK inhibitors either as a class, or some of these individual ones, both FDA approved in clinical trials have been associated with either a central, or peripheral neuropathy. So, I think that’s another big aspect.

And then finally, I hate to say it, but these drug-to-drug interactions of all of these medicines can cause that. When you factor that, plus vitamin deficiencies, thyroid deficiencies, iron abnormalities, restless leg syndrome, our patients have a host of reasons to have neuropathy. Usually this is an intermittent phenomenon, a come and go phenomenon. When it starts to become more of a permanent phenomenon and progressive, that’s a big concern, and that would really require a separate neurologic work up.

True, there are some chemotherapy drugs that can cause that, but I would say that would necessitate a multi-disciplinary approach; neurologists and all of this kind of thing.

Andrew: Okay. You used the name of a drug that people take. Is a blood thinner, Coumadin. Somebody may take diabetes medicines, I also have Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia and take medicines for that. Okay. So, if we’re developing some of this and we have an MPN, which of the many doctors we have doo we go to first – do we go to you as our MPN specialist? Do we start there?

Dr. Pemmaraju: Yes. Absolutely. I think the phrase and the motto of every MPN expert that you’ll meet (and you and I know all of them now) is, ‘Tell us everything.’ Because I will tell you what. Now that we have more understanding – not full understanding yet, but more understanding of the biology of these diseases, it turns out that a lot of things that are happening are due to MPN.

One example I’ll give you, Andrew, our colleague and friend, Claire Harrison has pioneered this phrase called, ‘presenteeism’. Presenteeism. Not absenteeism, as we learned when we were younger. The concept that our patients with MPN are there, they’re here at work, with their loved ones, they’re at dinner, but they’re not really there. That’s also a question on the questionnaire; inability to concentrate. Subtle, subtle, subtle, but this is part of the MPN process. We’re not talking about it enough, but programs like this will get the message out there. So, tell your MPN doctor everything because more than likely they know it’s part of the MPN.

Andrew: I gotta tell my wife. I’ve been married 33 years.

Dr. Pemmaraju: This is all recorded, so you can tell her.

Andrew: All right. Esther, where are you? Okay. No. Let’s go on. So, Heather sent in this question. “My local hematologist, oncologist will only give me a phlebotomy after my hematocrit is over 51. What is the standard marker? I have PV and I’m really struggling with symptoms.”

Dr. Pemmaraju: I actually have data to share with you and your viewers. So, before four years ago, we did use to do it either based on convention, symptom burden, or a pre-designed abstract number. But now we have data. So, our Italian colleagues, Barbui and colleagues published in the New England Journal about four years ago a very nice paper that starts to answer this question. They randomize patients with P. Vera to two groups. They called it a liberal group, where you could get phlebotomies at any number essentially just like what’s being asked here, and then a more stringent group, which they came up with the hematocrit goal of 45 and below. Or below 45.

And the trial was actually stopped early because it showed a four-fold decrease in cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. That means, four times less chance of people having cardiac events or cardiac deaths in the stringent phlebotomy group. That is when you put the goal below 45. Yes, it’s only one study, but it’s with several hundred patients with P. Vera in a nice controlled situation. So, that has become a lot of us – for us, the de facto of standard of care.
So, I would advise, if you’re a higher risk patient with P. Vera, the so-called triple therapy approach, where you’re doing, you know, baby aspirin if you qualify. The phlebotomy goal of 45 and below, and then of course, cytoreductive therapy if you need it in the higher-risk situation. So, 45 and below, it should be validated, we should do more studies here in the States, but that’s something that I think we can use with high-level data.

Andrew: Okay, thanks. Here’s a question we got in from Kimberley. She says, “My daughter is 22, she was diagnosed in 2013 with ET, and she’s been on Hydroxyurea, but is decided she no longer wants to take the med. What should she be aware of, or cautious about, given that she’s no longer taking it?”

Dr. Pemmaraju: Ugh. Well, this is an area that’s very dear to me and very important to my research. With our group here, with Dr. Serge Verstovsek and my colleagues, we just published a paper on our experience with adolescents and young adults with MPN, or AYA. As its own separate field, AYA cancer has become a very important understanding that really didn’t exist, in my opinion, 20 years ago. But our patients are not always older patients. So, young patients can get MPN, too. Yes, patients in their teens and twenties can get them just like this questioner.

So, this is a type of patient that I’m seeing quite commonly in the clinic. Couple of points to say. One is, who can blame her? Who wants to take a life-long, indefinite oral chemotherapy that may or may not have short-term and long-term side effects? In our study what we found is, approximately 10 percent of our patients met this definition. The NCCN gives it, I think, age 16 to 39. So, younger than 40. And out of those patients, I was surprised to see that a good seven percent had a thrombotic event. That means a blood clot, either at the time of diagnosis just prior to, or just after. Well, that’s a pretty good clip, and that would be more than the general population than what you would expect.

The problem with the young patient with MPN has several issues. One is, what about at the time of fertility and pregnancy? Two, what about at the time of surgical procedures? I’m talking about routine things, such as dental and other care. And then three, as they start to transition into their older adult years. So, in this patient’s case, this is a very difficult thing. We don’t have many drugs. We have Hydroxyurea, we have Interferon, which possibly might be better for a younger patient. If someone has myelofibrosis, there’s no age requirements. So, if you qualify, then the JAK inhibitor, as a class.

But this is just one of those in-between, vulnerable populations, and we really don’t have great treatments for in general, an AYA cancer, and specifically here. And so, the main thing that we would say to this person is, really, really close follow-up early on with an MPN expert, as you always advocate. Two, is at the time of fertility planning, pregnancy in our family planning is to have high-risk maternal-fetal experts involved early on. (I think, this is something important.) And three, really cautious planning in and around surgical procedures, looking for bleeding and blood clots. I think those are some basic guidelines for anyone to follow.

Andrew: Well, great advice for mom and daughter. I wanted to post this, just a quick question from Caroline who lives in the United Kingdom is diagnosed with primary myelofibrosis four years ago at age 49. And she said, “I’ve tried to find others with myelofibrosis of a similar age, but so far no luck.” So, is being diagnosed at her age, age 49 with myelofibrosis, unusual?

Dr. Pemmaraju: There you go. That’s perfect. So, that also goes along with our “Young people get MNPs as well.” This was a disease – first of all a disease, now we recognize it as a cancer that was thought to be 60, 70, 80, 90 and older. And now we realize that there’s a significant subset of our populations diagnosed in their teens, twenties, thirties, and forties. So, we definitely want our question – our viewer to know, no, you’re not alone at all. Please, see our paper that we just put out there and several other of my colleagues, including Brady Stein and others.

Two is, my goodness. Not only you’re not alone, but I actually believe – and I know you know this too – that a lot of rare cancers are sometimes are under diagnosed and underappreciated. It does require expert bone marrow, expertise, someone to identify it, someone to do a bone marrow. And lastly, for this patient looking for other patients, I would refer them to sources, such as this one. Patient Power, support groups on Facebook, we have a Twitter feed, as you know, a grassroots Twitter, that’s investigators initiative called #MPNSM (myeloproliferative neoplasm on social media).

So, there are lots of different ways for this person to connect with not only younger patients with the disease, but also as a support group, virtually. And I think platforms, such as Patient Power, have frankly revolutionized the way people have obtained information, have communicated with each other, and specifically for a patient like this in the UK, who is not able to connect with me. And when there are people all over the world waiting to talk to her.

Andrew: Right. I wanna call at our friends in the United Kingdom, MPN Voice.

Dr. Pemmaraju: Oh, yes.

Andrew: It’s Claire Harrison, who you mentioned, wonderful, devoted.

Dr. Pemmaraju: Outstanding.

Andrew: She’s an expert, out of London, helps run it. So, please, connect with them. Okay, here is a question from Erin, as we’re getting near the end of our program. “Can ET ever cause systemic inflammation? And is that what causes symptoms? The inflammation.”

Dr. Pemmaraju: Yes, yes, and yes. So, inflammation, I think, used to be a word that may have been potentially, if I may say, a wastebasket term, but now is a very specific term. So, now we know that a lot of our hematologic disorders and malignancies lead to a high level of inflammation. That means tissue damage. Tissue injury. That’s what inflammation means. There are some conditions that the patient does not even have a blood cancer diagnosis, but has a molecular mutation, that’s called CHIP (clonal hematopoiesis of indeterminate potential), and those patients appear to have a higher likelihood of cardiovascular disease and death. That’s New England Journal of Medicine. The likely pathway is inflammation.

In our patients with MPN, even the quote on quote, earlier stages, such as ET and PV. This is a disease of cytokines and inflammation. So, high levels of abnormal messengers and signals. So, yes, inflammation is part of the disease, patients have a higher rate of cardiovascular events and death. That’s inflammation. And then of course, the bone marrow milieu itself, as it progresses to myelofibrosis has an up ramp, if you will, of cytokines and inflammation. Last part of it is the therapies that we’re working on are trying to either target inflammation itself, or to bring down that level.

Andrew: Okay. I wanna see if – Here’s a – one that just popped in as we get near the end of our program. Roger says, “Are there any drugs being studied that improve anemia in patients with a low hemoglobin?” What’s the easiest way to find out about clinical trials if you live out of the state, or out of the country where this trial may be –?

Dr. Pemmaraju: Yes. Your best resource to look that up is run by the Federal Government, the NH, it’s called, that’s dot G-O-V. This is an outstanding website, well curated, updated as quickly as they can, and it has a nice search function. You can search by investigator, disease type, condition, and there’s even a box for ‘other’ where you can type in something like ‘myelofibrosis’.

There are several drugs in development. These drugs are known as Luspatercept and Sotatercept, for example. And they’re a class of drugs that are anemia targeting in myelofibrosis and myelodisplastic syndrome. So, the answer is, yes. And you can find out these types of clinical trials either online at this website, or at other websites. But this is an important, urgent, unmet medical need that we are working on, and there are active clinical trials for patients to enroll on.

Andrew: Well, okay. And the last thing I would ask you about – and this always comes up, Naveen, but I wanna hear what you have to say is somebody we have people with ET, we have people with PD, MF, and we talked at one end about acute myeloid leukemia. What do we know about progression now? So, if I’m sitting there with ET, am I necessarily going to go onto PV, or MF? Or anywhere along the line, and how do we know?

Dr. Pemmaraju: We do know a little bit more. So, the answer is no. So, a lot of our patients do stay in the chronic phase, as you’re asking. So, if you’re ET, or PV – and our European colleagues have really done these nice population studies, where the majority – the vast majority of patients with ET and PV are expected in the modern era to have normal life expectancies as long as you’re mitigating in some bleeds, clots, and these type of events.

But for the minority, who don’t have a normal life expectancy, you’re talking about progression to AML, which is a minority of all these. Right? Maybe 5-7 percent of cases at the most. There are some things we have identified. One is that there are some dynamic acquisition of molecular mutations that are happening at the time of progression. And what I mean by that is, there are new injuries to the DNA that people appear to be picking up. So, two important studies our colleague, Raajit Rampal showed that the acquisition of TP53 mutation, which is the guardian of the genome present in 50 (five, zero) percent of human cancers. That looks like it’s more common when ET and PV are trying to take off to AML.

Another study by our Mayo colleagues just published in Blood Advances showed that other mutations, such as PTPN11, or RUNX1, just to name some particular ones, and then we’ve known about ASXL-1 now for a while. So, rapidly change in blood counts in concert with new molecular mutations, and then a baseline if you have high-risk mutations. That seems to be a way for us to predict who might transform faster than others.

Now, that’s an addition to the traditional risk factors that you and I have already discussed, the IPSS risk, or etc. So, there are some ways that we can monitor. A lot of these may be in the research setting. Some are ready for the clinic, but there are some ways now.

Andrew: Okay. So, ladies and gentlemen, I hope this program is been worthwhile for you. Remember that the big meeting of Dr. Pemmaraju and his colleagues from around the world with thousands of hematologists is this the American Society of Hematology meeting, which once again, will be, yay, near me, in San Diego.

Dr. Pemmaraju: Very good.

Andrew: Esther and I’ll just drive over. And the Patient Power team will be there, the Patient Empowerment Network team will be there. So, we’re there for you. So, look for more programs as we go through the fall, and certainly in December, when this meeting happens. And that’s where a lot of the research that Dr. Pemmaraju talks about is presented.

Dr. Pemmaraju: Right.

Andrew: And then we’ll have more news. So, we’re living with these long-term conditions, thank god for most all of us, and it’s a moving target, as I’ve described. I wanna thank you for joining the Patient Empowerment Network program, for sponsoring this program. We thank Incyte Corporation for its support, and Dr. Naveen Pemmaraju from M.D. Anderson, and the Leukemia Department there, thank you for being a partner in this, and just explaining things, and your passion. And Naveen, again, back to your whiteboard back there. Figure it out.

Dr. Pemmaraju: It’s all there. Yes, sir, Andrew.

Andrew: It’s all there. Figure it out. Okay? All right. Thank you so much for being with us from around the world. We love it. We’ve got a community. This is what it’s all about and we’ll have future ask the expert programs. I’m Andrew Schorr near San Diego. Thanks to the Patient Empowerment Network for making all this happen. Remember, knowledge can be the best medicine of all.

Living Well with MPNs – The Power of Diet & Exercise

The Power of Diet & Exercise: Advice From MPN Experts

Living Well With MPNs: The Power of Diet & Exercise from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

The expert panel featured renowned MPN specialist and researcher Dr. Ruben Mesa and was joined by other experienced clinicians and patients on the broadcast, to share knowledge and advice about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle when dealing with myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs).


Andrew Schorr:

And hello, wherever you may be. Welcome to this Patient Empowerment Network program. I’m Andrew Schorr from Patient Power. We’re going to discuss the power of diet and exercise, and get advice from MPN experts. We want to thank Insight Corporation for their support. We’re gonna cover the country – the U.S. country – today with our experts. I have my own experience with an MPN, myelofibrosis, diagnosed in 2011, and I’m an avid runner, and I like to go to the gym, and I certainly like to have my weight be just right. Some of this has been a challenge along the way, and we’re gonna get advice from the experts on that. We’re also gonna meet a patient from New Jersey, and we’re gonna meet a noted expert from San Antonio, and a dietitian who’s an expert in oncology diet, and she’s in North Carolina.

So, let’s get started. And remember, you can send your questions to And if you have some favorite recipe or some exercise tip, send that too. All right, let’s go first to Westfield, New Jersey, about 19 miles from New York City, meeting someone who grew up in Brooklyn but now lives with her family in suburban New Jersey, and that’s Julia Olff. Julia, welcome to the program.

Julia Olff:

Hi, thank you very much.

Andrew Schorr:

Thank you, Julia. Now, Julia, you and I have met a couple of times. We did a Town Hall event in New York City near Grand Central Station, and you were there. And then a few weeks ago, we were all at Cornell Weill, and across from where you used to work for five years at Memorial Sloan Kettering. So, as I understand it, nine years ago, you were diagnosed with ET, and then a year later, it became what I have too, myelofibrosis. How did it start?

Julia Olff:

It really was diagnosed incidentally through a physical – annual physical exam and routine blood work.

I think in retrospect, I had symptoms. Probably like other folks, I had thalamic migraines over the years and some blood abnormalities, but it was really a physical exam. And I was not symptomatic that I was aware of at that time.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. And it didn’t worry you, at that point.

Julia Olff:

I mean, I know we’ll talk more about it. I worked in health education. I worked on patient education materials at the time. When I was told I had ET, I was sort of thrown because I was one of those people that were always healthy, always focused on health. And it concerned me, but I was not yet worried.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay, so here comes myelofibrosis.

Julia Olff:

Right. That worried me. So, that also was diagnosed at that point then through bone marrow biopsy, and they were able to determine some initial mutations related to myelofibrosis.

And I saw a local oncologist, who was now more serious about this as the more serious form of the illness, and looking on the Internet. And now this is actually about 2008. You know what kind of information was available at the time. It was pretty dire. So, that kick started my getting more serious about it.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. Now, you’ve had some hospitalizations, too. So, it’s been up and down, right?

Julia Olff:

Yeah, I think it’s a real ebb and flow. I feel, in a lot of ways, fortunate that it’s nine years out, and I have not had some of the hallmark symptoms that others have. But I have had these strange, sort of out of nowhere; I can feel fairly good, barring fatigue and some pain. And then out of the blue, I had a TIA. I’ve had a few hospitalizations for colitis. And those set you back, you know?

They take a good six to eight weeks to recover. And if you saw me in August, you would see the really lethargic, slow-moving me.

Andrew Schorr:

So, what’s your exercise routine?

Julia Olff:

Well, I know we were talking earlier. I had two dogs, most recently one, and he just passed away. That has been my exercise routine. So, I don’t feel energetic enough to do things like biking, even though I have a lovely bicycle. But I do try to walk every day. And right now, I’m feeling well enough that I push myself to walk a little longer. And I think as it gets darker in the year – I’m on the East Coast. As it gets colder, I do really have to push myself. But I wholeheartedly advocate for having a pet, because you need to get out, and that really helps a lot. So, walking is key for me.

Andrew Schorr:

And diet, I know. So, you’ve got a high school kid at home and a college kid who’s coming back. And you’ve had five children in a blended family, I know. So, it can be a busy place. What do you eat, and what do you eat consciously that you feel helps you as you’re living with an MPN?

Julia Olff:

Well, I think the thing that’s helped me the most is actually following Weight Watchers. And I know we were talking earlier that being on Ruxolitinib or Jakafi has added pounds. And it has. And that sort of prompted me. I finally got fed up with myself, and I joined Weight Watchers. And I think the most important aspect of Weight Watchers is, one, portion control. And then the other part is eating fresh food. So, that changed or really pumped up my diet. So, one, I started to receive organic groceries delivered to the house, which also helps a lot when you’re feeling fatigued. So, I try to eat as many fruits and vegetables at every meal. And I feel like that’s helping me.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. All right. We’re gonna get more from you along the way. And I want you to chime in with questions. Let’s meet one of the best-known experts as a physician devoted to treating MPNs, and that’s Dr. Ruben Mesa. He recently moved from where he was with Mayo Clinic in Arizona, and now – you’ve got a long title, Ruben. I’ve got to give it. It’s Director of Mays Family Foundation, Distinguished University Presidential Chair Professor of Medicine at the UT Health San Antonio Cancer Center. I’m so glad I got it right. Ruben Mesa, welcome to our program. It’s great to see you again.

Dr. Ruben Mesa:

Hey, it’s always a pleasure to be on these Patient Power events.

Andrew Schorr:

Thank you so, much. And Patient Empowerment Network program. Thank you so much, Ruben. So, Ruben, we’re gonna come back to you and have you really put diet and exercise in perspective.

And I know you’ve seen thousands of patients. And I’m sure patients have shared with you every diet, every kind of exercise. You’ll have stories to tell, won’t you?

Dr. Ruben Mesa:


Andrew Schorr:

Okay. All right. Let’s skip over to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and meet someone who’s been on other programs we’ve produced. And that’s Julie Lanford. Julie is a registered dietitian, nutritionist. But beyond that is at Cancer Services, a nonprofit in North Carolina, Julie is an oncology dietitian. Julie, welcome to the program.

Julie Lanford:

Thank you so much.

Andrew Schorr:

Let’s get started. So, first of all, Ruben, we’ve heard you talk a lot about the differences in MPNs. And so, really, there’s not a one size fits all, even really the diet and exercise, Ruben, is there?

Dr. Ruben Mesa:

There truly is not. I mean, certainly, with MPNs, we really have to think about diseases that people live with. They live with, for long periods of time, many even the rest of their lives – with their MPN. So, again, I try to frame it for folks. For many, it’s really about managing a chronic condition. And being a chronic condition, the things that we do in terms of our lifestyle are very important, both in terms of what we eat, how active we are, how well we sleep. There are many key parts that are related, without question.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. I gotta ask one question off the top. Julie referred to it, and I wonder about it, too. So, I’ve been taking Ruxolitinib for five years. Julia, for four, I think you said, Julia.

Julie Lanford:


Andrew Schorr:

And so, what I wonder about, Ruben, is there anything about that medicine that some of us take, some people for PD as well, that lends to weight gain, scientifically?

Dr. Ruben Mesa:

It’s difficult to know. Clearly, people gain weight, at least on average, to some degree, with taking Ruxolitinib. Now, part of that reason for weight gain is that an MPN causes weight loss overall. And MPNs in general burn more calories than if you don’t have an MPN. The activity in the bone marrow, all those cells being produced, and turning over that burns more calories than it does otherwise. So, part of the weight gain may be turning off that extra calorie burn that the MPN caused. So, part may be, again, you’ve kind of adjusted your diet, etc. In the past, you were able to get away with eating more. And then if the disease is quieter, you gain some weight. Now, I’d say even though that’s part of it, it does seem that people do gain a little bit more weight than even that with the Ruxolitinib.

And it may well have to do in part with some of the secondary effects of the Ruxolitinib. Ruxolitinib inhibits JAK2. That’s one of the key reasons it was tested in MPNs. And with that, helps to shrink the spleen, helps people feel better. Maybe help even avoid progression of the disease or decrease that likelihood of progression. But it has an impact on a whole bunch of different proteins that circulate in the blood that we call cytokines. Cytokines can be involved with inflammation, but they may be involved with other parts that kind of control how things are working in the body. And it may be blocking of some of those cytokines that may account for a little bit of that change in weight.

Andrew Schorr:

Hm. Okay. And related to the other medicines that we take, some people take interferon, some people take hydroxurea, depending upon where they are – maybe just aspirin, depending on where they are with an MPN.

Are there other common things that affect weight related to any of those medicines?

Dr. Ruben Mesa:

It’s a good question. In general, the weight gain has been much more specific to the JAK inhibitors. I can’t say it’s specific to Ruxolitinib, but it really is an effect with JAK inhibitors. Most of those other medicines, hydroxyurea or interferon, don’t have a big impact on weight in terms of gain. Whether that’s in people with myelofibrosis who have lost weight related to the disease, even if they’re on hydroxyurea, they don’t tend to gain some of that weight back. So, myelofibrosis, we do view that some of the weight gain might be beneficial, because some of that weight loss in myelofibrosis is not just fat. It can be muscle. But again, there may be some part that is an extra effect of weight gain from the impact of the drug.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. Julie Lanford, so let’s talk about managing weight. So, I’ve been – and Julia mentioned it earlier. I mean, I’ve been – no more cookies for me. And I love chocolate chip cookies. So, I’ve had to make changes. How do you coach people through changes, if, let’s say, maybe there’s something related to inhibiting whatever in their body, we have to make changes.

Julie Lanford:

Yeah. So, I will say, I don’t actually keep a scale in my office because I think that a lot of times, you can get kind of distracted on the number. You do know, though – I find many patients know by how their clothes fit, by how they feel. And I think what’s important also is what type of weight is it? Is it muscle weight? Muscle weight’s good, right? Or is it more excess fat? And so, I think balancing those things and really keying in on what are the behaviors that we want you to have, as opposed to what the number on the scale, per se.

But are you able to be physically active that helps maintain muscle mass, and are you choosing those really healthy foods for you? Like Julia was saying, lots of fruits and vegetables, which are really important, not just for weight maintenance, but for overall feeling well and helping to support your immune system, and just overall good health.

Andrew Schorr:

Hm. And so, with this belly that I’ve developed, I had to make a change. I used to have a toasted bagel every morning, Julie. I’m not doing that now. And I put chocolate syrup in this latte machine thing. No more of that. I mean, these are things I’ve had to give up. But I’m having jelly with no sugar in it on a whole wheat waffle, and I’m eating a banana. Am I doing okay doing that?

Julie Lanford:

Yeah. I think – and sometimes, we discount the little things. But I think the little things are sometimes – they make the biggest difference. Because if they are things that you do on a daily basis, and you make a change, it’s gonna have a big impact. Now, you’re talking about your cookies. If you just had a cookie or two once a week, it’s not that big of a deal. But if you were having a cookie after lunch every single day –

Andrew Schorr:

I was.

Julie Lanford:

Then changing that habit – okay. Well then, approved. You can cut back on that. It’s a good choice, right? We don’t want you to completely eliminate it. But really keying in on what are you regular habits, I think, is the most important place to start. And I always encourage people to really pay attention to what they have on their plate, what are the ratios of food that’s on their plate, so that they are getting enough of the nourishing nutrients. And sometimes that helps to, when you make those changes away from the less healthy things; you don’t notice it as much when you’re focused on including more of the healthy things.

Andrew Schorr:

Well, I just want to make one comment. We lived in Europe, some people know, for three years. And the first thing that hit us when we came back to the U.S. is the much bigger portions. And there you are, Ruben – you’re in Texas. Texas-sized food. Or even in California. My mother used to say, “Clean everything on your plate,” but I’m rethinking that, so. Julia Olff, I want to go back to you. So, related to – so, what kind of fruit are you eating? What change have you made? You said fruits and vegetables and organic stuff, too.

Julia Olff:

Well, I have a question in relationship to the conversation that we just had that I wanted to come back to. But I think because of Weight Watchers, my awareness of both weight and nutritional value of food has just heightened. So, one of my big questions in relationship to myelofibrosis that I have tried to adjust but haven’t eliminated – I’m a foodie. I live for food. To me, life – I’m not sure I want another year of life if I can’t have a cookie.

And so, I’ve tried to reduce the amount of fat I take in. And I think I have a lot of questions about salt, sugar, and fat as it relates to having a myeloproliferative neoplasm, being at risk for bleeding, blood clots, etc. But I would say, like you, I have a more structured – my meals are more intentional. So, like you, I have a bowl of fruit for breakfast every single day, and then I try to have something that’s – if I’m going to have a carbohydrate, I try to make it a better carbohydrate. I make use of hardboiled eggs a lot, so I get a little protein, and try to have greens at dinner every night. And a few of them – as a matter of fact, my husband said to me the other week, “Sure, make me a plate.” He was on his way home.

And he came home, and he looked at his plate, and he said, “That’s such a big plate of food.” I said, “Look at the balance. Half of it is vegetables. It’s really not so – it’s not like I’ve stuffed you.” “Oh, okay.”

Andrew Schorr:

So, Ruben, are there some things that in the clinic, you warn people to stay away from? Do you have some general advice, or certain foods, or if somebody’s worried about sludgy blood, where they’re at risk of a stroke, that certain kind of foods or salts or whatever that you warn people about?

Dr. Ruben Mesa:

Well, when it comes to diet and MPNs, I mean, I think there are several levels. And one, let’s say, the general U.S. diet. People kind of eat whatever they want. And that’s probably not healthy for anyone. High in salt, high in fat. It’s a risk for us all in terms of cardiovascular disease, etc. And when you have an MPN, all of those standard risks with cholesterol and sugar and high blood pressure, they’re even a greater concern with MPNS, without question.

But that’s kind of diet one. Diet two, and we can definitely dig into this, regards just trying to eat a healthier diet. And that has different values, whether it’s straight weight loss, or a just a general healthier diet, I think, of which there’s a lot of discussion as to a lot of variations within there. But even just the effort of trying to eat healthier, both in terms of quantity and what you’re eating, has an impact. And there’s finally, the third group, really kind of subspecialized diets, of which I think there is great discussion, but I don’t think that there’s near conformity of should it be gluten-free? Should it be high in protein? Should it be low in protein? Should it be paleo? Should it be this? Should it be that? I think that is more mixed.

But I think for MPN patients, the most particular thing is at least trying to not be in that first group of just kind of the general U.S. just kind of eat food as it comes, fried, salted, really without regard to diet. So, even if MPN patients just followed the diet that we’re all supposed to be following, they probably are in dramatically better shape than just if they’re eating just a general U.S. diet.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. I want to ask you a couple of things about exercise. So, some people with high blood counts worry that they are certainly at risk of stroke. Should that, during that time, limit the amount of exercise they do for fear that the stuff pumping ever faster through their body is gonna end up with a big blood clot somewhere?

Dr. Ruben Mesa:

Sure. No, that’s a very good question. One, overall, exercise for MPN patients is a very good thing. But clearly, it should be done with kind of the awareness of their physicians. And that in periods of time where the disease is not stable – the counts are too high and uncontrolled, there’s just been an event such as a blood clot or bleeding, clearly there might be times where exercise is not appropriate until things are more balanced and in control. But I’d say once things are balanced and in control, and as long as your healthcare team is aware, appropriate exercise is helpful and important. I think, like any approach to healthy exercise, it’s about gradually working yourself into a specific exercise program. With an MPN, it’s probably not good to do what happens on January 2nd every year, where everyone has a New Years resolution.

And they go from, okay, I’m not exercising at all, to I’m gonna go to Lifetime, and I’m gonna exercise an hour and a half on January 2nd, and absolutely dehydrate myself and exhaust myself, so by January 4th, I’ve quit because I pulled a muscle and I feel terrible. So, it’s clearly about kind of working yourself up to an appropriate level of exercise, in combination with what your doctor feels is appropriate and healthy for you, both in terms of your overall health, but also in terms of where you stand with your MPN.

Andrew Schorr:

Mm-hmm. So, Julie, you’re nodding your head. How have you carried on with exercise? Walking the dog, but what other kinds of things?

Julie Lanford:

Well, I wanted to add, as I’m listening to Dr. Mesa, that pacing is so important. Because I find it catches up with me. I could sleep, on average night, nine, ten hours, and I have to push myself out of bed in the morning.

 So, yesterday, I had an evening meeting. I took a long walk. And in the moment, I’m okay, but by the evening, I start to feel achy. I need to put my feet up. The bone pain in my hips starts to kick in. So, there’s that balance of trying to get out as much as possible. So, for me, it’s taking advantage of the sun outside my window. And I’m already thinking, as soon as we’re done with this call, I’m gonna take another short walk. But it’s also trying to balance it, because too much activity when you have constant fatigue just catches up with you. And I find I end up having those acute bouts of illness when I’ve done too much for a sustained – like for a couple of months.

Dr. Ruben Mesa:

If I might just add one additional thing. That pacing thing, I think, is so important.

As I told you, I’ve had many patients over the years who are very Type A. Some of them will be on this webinar as we speak.

Julie Lanford:


Dr. Ruben Mesa:

And they’re very hard on themselves because they remember, well, before my MPN, I was able to exercise this amount, and beat themselves up because they just don’t have the same stamina that they did before. And it’s okay. It’s okay to realize that the new normal does not necessarily mean that you have 100 percent of the capacity that you had before in terms of your exercise capability, and that even though it’s modified, or less, or adjusted accordingly, it’s still great that you’re doing it.

Andrew Schorr:

Right. I have a story about that I’ll just share. So, as we do this program, it’s just after Thanksgiving. So, there was a Turkey Trot, as there were in many places around the country, in Balboa Park on the north side of LA.

My son, Ari, won it. He’s a really fast marathoner. But Esther and I ran it, and Esther and I were running together slowly. And I found I was huffing and puffing, and I’ve run eight marathons, many years ago. And I just said, “You know, I just want to finish.” And Esther went ahead. She did really well. Congratulations, Esther. And then my son who ran the race came back and ran the last mile with me. So, it was a 5k, so a little over three miles. I felt great that I did it. I felt disappointed that I couldn’t do what I used to. But I did it. And I think it’s exactly what you’re saying, Ruben. So, Julie Lanford, are there certain foods or things we can do that will give us more energy, and some things that are just a waste?

Julie Lanford:

So, I would say that we do want to focus on foods. There’s no supplements. Unless you’re deficient in a nutrient, there’s no reason to take pill forms of nutrition.

So, we do want to focus on the foods. And there are certain patterns of eating that we know are particular healthy, and certain patterns that are not so healthy. We’ve talked about the typical American kind of eats a pattern that’s not so healthy. And when it comes to fatigue, I would say similar types of foods as we want for an overall healthy diet. But I think it’s really key that people not wait too long to eat, so that they’re – just like your pacing, everything else in your day, you want to make sure that you are eating regularly throughout the day so that you never get real low on energy in terms of nutrition.

And also, really making sure that you have a good balance of foods at your mealtimes and at your snack times. So, you want to make sure you have a healthy carbohydrate, because that’s what can really give your brain and your muscles energy. You want to make sure you have a good balance of proteins. They can come from plant proteins or animal proteins. But make sure that your meals and snacks have an adequate amount of protein.

And then, of course, some fruits and vegetables and other things. But really getting that balance, and also not going too long between when you eat, so that you can consistently give your body that energy that it needs. Even if it’s smaller amounts at a time, it’s spread out throughout the day regularly.

Andrew Schorr:

So, when I went to summer camp as a kid, they had us eat candy bars if we were low on energy. And we’re talking about carbohydrates. So, kick off a couple of specifics that you would recommend that we should – snacks, for instance.

Julie Lanford:

Yeah. So, probably wouldn’t recommend a candy bar, per se, on a regular basis. But things like peanut butter crackers, if you can buy just good old whole grain crackers and peanut butter and put them on there, that can be easy. Even a peanut butter sandwich is really simple. Peanut butter and banana. People around here eat that. I think it’s delicious. Soups can be easy things that are kept either in the fridge – that’s easy to heat up.

Because that’s the other thing with fatigue. You don’t feel like cooking, so you want to make sure that you have sort of meal-sized portions in your fridge ready to eat. That’s what friends and family can kind of do for you. So, even just small meals. If it’s spaghetti, if it’s a piece of pizza that you put lots of vegetables on. I think fruit is great as a source of healthy carbohydrates. If you had fruit and a cheese stick, or even if you made yourself some sort of healthy smoothie, just something that’s going to give you that balance of nutrients.

Andrew Schorr:

Yeah. You mentioned something, and Julie, I don’t know if you do it. We had started to – I love leftovers. And so, we’ve been trying to make healthy stuff, put it in the fridge where I can grab for lunch. Or this morning, Esther made a big thing of steel-cut oatmeal. And so, now I can have that as part of my breakfast. So, Julie, is that – are we on the right track?

Julie Lanford:

Yeah, that’s great. And something that’s really popular right now is overnight oats. So, you can soak your oats in milk or whatever or whatever you want to use for a liquid, and it’s in a jar, or it’s in a container in the fridge all night, so it gets soft, so it cooks really quickly in the morning in the microwave. So, yeah, I think that’s a great way – there are lots of grains you could use for breakfast cereals, too. Barley is another grain. Quinoa. And essentially, you cook it the same as you would oatmeal. Flavor it the same way, and it just gives it variety if you’re looking for something different.

Andrew Schorr:

Julia, how’s that sound to you?

Julia Olff:

I’m not a big hot cereal fan, so I have two breakfasts that I go back and forth from. One is – I love Cheerios, and I just read how much sugar there was in Honeynut Cheerios, so I’m mixing plain Cheerios now with Honeynut Cheerios, and then I add a lot of fruit to it. Or I do a whole grain muffin with half a hardboiled egg, which makes me miss my dog, because I always gave him the other half of the egg.

Andrew Schorr:

I have a blood count question for you with myelofibrosis. How are your platelets?

Julia Olff:

For me?

Andrew Schorr:


Julia Olff:

They are – since I started Jakafi, they’ve controlled like they have never, ever been, or not in a decade. So, they’re probably between 250 and 300, I would say.

Andrew Schorr:

Oh boy. Okay.

Julia Olff:

Yeah. I’ve got platelets to spare.

Andrew Schorr:

Well, I would take some. So – and Ruben knows this about me. So, my platelets have traditionally been low, and they got as low as a few months ago, 40,000. And now I’ve been doing through treatment, actually, for this other condition I’ve had, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and they were up to about 100. Ruben, one of the things I was told by my doctors was don’t do contact sports, because my spleen was getting larger, and also, I had low platelets.

So, what about the kind of exercise you do if your platelets are lower? What’s your thought about that?

Dr. Ruben Mesa:

Well, I would say that, barring extremely low platelets, i.e., under 15,000, most routine forms of exercise that are cardiovascular, that are elliptical machines, that are weight-lifting, others sorts of things – all of those sorts of things are fine. I think the sports that one would probably avoid with either of those situations is truly kind of contact teams sports – rugby, football, etc., where there’s very significant contact. Down here in Texas, I certainly have seen people riding the mechanical bull. I’m not sure that’s a good idea for anybody, but those sorts of extreme things. There is a bit of a misperception regarding the spleen and it being fragile with MPNs.

It sometimes makes people a little too fearful of doing exercise. The spleen enlarged with acute illnesses from a virus, most commonly mononucleosis or mono, is an area where the spleen grows very quickly. It’s very fragile. And constantly, you hear about people having their spleens rupture with playing volleyball, or football, or what have you. And in MPNs, that really is much less of a case. It’s not nearly as fragile. And it really – it’s not a concern for rupture with all the sorts of normal routine things one would do as an individual with exercise.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. So, Julia, have you had any worries about the kind of exercise you would do related to your condition, whether you’re gonna have a stroke, or bleeding, or maybe not bleeding, but other complications?

Julia Olff:

I think right after the TIA, and I can’t remember for how long, but maybe for a few months, I was feeling cautious about movement. And my platelets were not yet under control, so I was dizzy. And then they put me on Plavix as well, so that was sort of making it hard to do a lot physically anyway. Since being on Jakafi, having my counts much more controlled and having more energy from Jakafi, I don’t think I – I’m frankly jealous of other people that can do real exercise. I see people run past my window, joggers, etc. But I don’t feel like I have the energy to do that. So, for me, walking is really – walking and walking up steps are my physical activities. And the trips that my husband and I have taken really involve walking and the occasional swim in places that – you’re in sunny California, so maybe you have a pool. But, you know.

Andrew Schorr:

I have an ocean.

Julia Olff:

Yeah, and an ocean. That’s a lot of – to go into an ocean and deal with the forces of the waves, etc. To me, that would be too exhausting. So, I’m sticking with walking. That’s . . .

Andrew Schorr:

Yeah. Let me make a comment about exercise, just because I’ve been doing it for many years. So, yeah, after the marathons and all that. Esther and I go to the gym every day. And we joined one of these ones that’s open day and night. And we go, whatever our schedule is, and I get on the elliptical, and I do what I can. I watch the news, which maybe is a good thing or a bad thing. But at any rate – and I don’t beat myself up about how I did compared to the day before, or the month before, or whatever. But I just do it. And then sometimes, we run, and then we work in biking. So, that’s what we do.

And I would really urge people, because Julia, wouldn’t you agree, there’s a whole psychological benefit to just exercising or getting out there too?

Julia Olff:

Absolutely. And I know Dr. Mesa will – I’ve heard him talk about this, and I certainly read about, try to keep up to date, just talking about the news, about health information sources that reiterate things like getting yourself out. There’s something about stepping outside, and if you have some sunshine, and feeling that that helps, even when I don’t feel well. So, I feel like I always want to get out and move a little bit. And I just try to pace myself. And Julie was saying earlier, and I was thinking about there’s the physical activity, and there’s the amount of time I stand. I love to cook, so for me, being in the kitchen at 4:00 in the afternoon and making a two-hour recipe is a lot of fun.

But it starts to wear on me. And so, standing is a kind of form of exercise that you forget about.

Andrew Schorr:

Do you have a recipe you think – you enjoy making, and it’s an affirmation of better health for you? Something that you feel –

Julia Olff:


Andrew Schorr:

What’s that?

Julia Olff:

I think the roasting vegetables. So, every vegetable tastes better roasted, I think. And I roast just about everything. And it’s so easy, because you can flip the oven onto 400 and go about your business. Once you’ve mixed with vegetables, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, different kinds of earthy potatoes, sweet potatoes, and olive oil. Light on the salt, pepper, garlic. And it’s good stuff, and it’s easy.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay, Julie, I have some questions for you, because again, it’s in my daily life, maybe others.

And if you all out there in online video land have questions, please send them to, and our producer Jamie’s gonna forward some to me, and we’ll pose them before the end of the hour. So, Julie, we cook some things in a wok, and we cut up vegetables. And but my wife has started us using a little bit of something called ghee, which I think is clarified butter. So, how do you feel about that? Or should we be using some other oil instead?

Julie Lanford:

So, when it comes to fats, we like for people to have more of the unsaturated, sort of heart healthy fats, is what we think of, and less of the saturated animal fats. Less of doesn’t mean none. And so, there’s certainly room. I would say ghee and butter are similar in terms of their saturated fat content, as is coconut oil, which sort of has this health halo right now, but it’s still a saturated fat.

So, what I would tell you is it depends on the recipe. If it requires that you use a solid fat in order for the recipe to work, then I would use it. If you can use olive oil instead, or canola oil, or peanut oil, I would choose those. And so, as long as you’re getting a variety. But if you’re always using butter or coconut oil, or if you are somebody who heard coconut oil was healthy and switched from olive oil to coconut oil, we wouldn’t really recommend that. So, it’s really more about the balance, and also how much of it you use. Now, if people are using it so that they will eat vegetables, I think that it’s still an overall gain, because we want people to eat vegetables. And talking about roasted vegetables, nobody’s gonna eat something if it doesn’t taste good. I don’t care how healthy it is. So, we need for you to figure out ways that make healthy food taste good. And so, we try to balance that when we’re giving those recommendations, but you know.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. I’m gonna skip back to exercise for a minute, related to sort of mindfulness as well. So, Julia, you told me that you were actually in a yoga study. Is that right?

Julia Olff:

Yes, one that Arizona State and Dr. Mesa’s team was running. I was in a control group, so I didn’t get to initially participate, but they were – and hopefully, Dr. Mesa will share the results, but they were looking at the benefits of yoga for people with MPNs.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. What about it, Dr. Mesa?

Dr. Ruben Mesa:

So, yoga is something that has been found to be helpful in a variety of diseases. And in particular, it’s been primarily studied in breast cancer. So, we wanted to help to demonstrate really several things as an evolving arc with my colleague Jennifer Huberty that leads kind of this exercise research activity at Arizona State.

So, one, we wanted to prove that yoga can be helpful, that yoga has several components, both physical activity as well as a meditation component. And we wanted it to be something that people could utilize really at their homes. And much of the yoga research done in cancer patients or others has been a bit artificial, with people having to travel into the city to go to a center that wasn’t very feasible. So, we’ve completed two studies and seek funding from the National Cancer Institute for the third. The first study, we developed a series of yoga modules to be done at home, in partnership with an online yoga instruction company called Udaya. And what they do is they develop yoga modules to have people do yoga at home. Well, we taught them about MPNs over a couple day period of time. And they created some modified yoga specific for MPN patients.

So, the first study we had was a feasibility study, which we published in the medical literature, where we showed that in about 30 patients, we found that they could figure out how to use the modules, that they used them, that they could use them safely. But whether there was really feasibility – is it feasible? And in that small group, we were able to show that there was also some benefits. They felt better, they felt better, they slept better, they had improvements in fatigue, etc.

The second study was the study that she just mentioned, that was yoga versus a control, where people were on a waitlist, and then after the period of time, they then could use the modules.

And in that study period comparing the two, in addition to measuring the impact of the yoga, we also were measuring blood levels of different levels of inflammation-related proteins or cytokines in the blood to see what sort of impact, in addition to sleep, fatigue, symptoms was having on the biology of issues of inflammation. And we’ll be presenting next week at the American Society of Hematology some of those results. But what we found is, one, not surprisingly, we think yoga is helpful. And it helped with fatigue. It helped with issues of mood and depression. And I think consistent with what’s being seen in other areas, one of the major benefits of yoga might be enhanced sleep. It is one of those potential benefits of yoga. Two, there are, again, the two components. There’s really an activity part with the poses and things of that nature, and is that better or worse than doing an elliptical machine? I don’t think that’s been studied.

But there’s that part. But then there’s really also a meditative part that includes breathing, balance, etc. So, I think there’s a variety of parts, and we’re working to study these different parts. We’re looking to study, how do we take people who have really not been active before? How do you get started in yoga is a little different than having people that have already been fit in the past, and really look to better understand these things so that we can really move to a place where they can be a resource for MPN patients, but also so that physicians know how to recommend or utilize tools like yoga for appropriate patients.

Andrew Schorr:

Yeah, I can’t wait to hear more about it at the ASH conference that’s coming up. And we’ll be covering it, so we’ll look for that. So, we started getting some questions. This one’s from Susan. In recognizing that there will be some patients who will need a stem cell transplant with myelofibrosis, we might progress to that.

And certainly, I know people like that. Julia, you may too. So, two questions about that, Ruben. One is, is there some physical conditioning you should do if you know you’re gonna be headed for a transplant? And second of all, what about recovery? In other words, will you do better with a transplant if you’re in better shape, and how can exercise be used to help you recover from the transplant?

Dr. Ruben Mesa:

Both are very good questions. Without question, physical activity with transplant is important. And people that go into a transplant stronger are clearly better off. But that clearly needs to be balanced with their physicians. What we clearly wouldn’t want is someone kind of wearing themselves out or trying to tackle too much in terms of exercise before a transplant either. You really want to go in kind of the best shape that you can.

Second, most transplant programs now really do try to, even during the process of transplant, try to maintain people’s strength the best they can. That might include everything from activities that are there in the hospital room or at the hospital. I’ve seen everything from kind of modified elliptical machines that you do while sitting down to other things. Without question, there will be days during the transplant people just don’t feel well enough to do that, and that’s fine. But the more days that people are active, really probably the better off they are. And on the backend, without question, whenever you have a very significant health intervention – I don’t care whether it’s a surgery, clearly a bone marrow transplant, anything that’s very dramatic like that, the process of active recovery, it’s a real process that, again, you’re starting a bit from scratch because you’re set back a bit with clearly going through a process like that.

But active recovery is key. People sometimes think, well, I had this big surgery, and it could be breast cancer. It could be a bone marrow transplant. And they think at the tail end, when they’re done, that they’re just gonna kind of bounce back to be exactly the way they were before when they started. And unfortunately, that’s not the way the body walks. You really have to kind of build that level of fitness back up again.

Andrew Schorr:

Hm. Okay. We’re getting questions about being a vegetarian. Grant wrote in and wonders – and I’ll pose this to you, Dr. Mesa, and also to Julie – Grant wants to know, is there any benefit to being a vegan or vegetarian when you have PV?

Dr. Ruben Mesa:

So, it’s a good question. I’d say, in short, I don’t think that there’s any evidence to suggest that you’re better off being a vegan or a vegetarian versus having a good healthy diet.

Are you better off being a vegan or a vegetarian than kind of a general U.S. fatty, salty, fried diet? Oh, absolutely. But compared to a general diet that has appropriate meat, and fish, and eggs, and other things, I wouldn’t say that there’s necessarily a big difference. Now, with PV, there’s always the issue of iron. When we do phlebotomies, part of the reason phlebotomies help to keep the blood counts controlled, specifically the red blood cells, is by making an individual iron deficient. And medicine sometimes can alleviate that, but it’s making people iron deficient. So, if you eat a lot of iron in your diet, particularly iron supplements, you’re really working at cross-purposes. You’re taking iron out by phlebotomy, but then you’re giving iron back in by a supplement. Doesn’t make a lot of sense. The amount of iron in the normal or a healthy diet is modest enough that we have not recommended the individuals to specifically avoid meat or natural food-based sources of iron.

We’re not trying to build their iron levels up, but nor do they need to have draconian avoidance of meat or iron in their diet. But no iron supplements.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. And just so we know, Julie, was it spinach? Or what are some of the foods people often eat when they’re trying to boost their iron?

Julie Lanford:

So, the typical foods that we think of as really high iron foods are going to be more animal-based. Clearly, liver is sort of one of the top sources. Not many people eat a lot of that. But even clams, mussels, oysters, cooked beef tend to be the things that people think of. When it comes to the plant sources of foods and iron, they’re just not absorbed as easily. And there’s usually other factors that sort of inhibit the absorption of iron.

So, cooked spinach is usually picked up on as well, because you know what happens when you take a lot of spinach and you cook it, and it’s like down to nothing. Well, you’re eating a lot of spinach when you eat it when it’s cooked. So, those are things that I wouldn’t be particularly concerned about, unless your doctor has said you need to pay attention to your iron sources. What I would say when it comes to vegetarian diets, vegetarians tend to have better health outcomes because of that eating pattern of having more vegetables and plant foods in their diet, which has a lot of great nutrients. I think you can eat a plant-based diet that still includes meat if you want to. You don’t have to. It’s a pretty wide range of what we would consider to be healthy eating. But you would want to make sure that you’re getting labs checked. Plus, the nice thing about going to the doctor all the time is that they do kind of stay on top of your labs, so you would pick up if you’re becoming deficient in something.

For vegans, we focus on B12. It takes a long time to become deficient, but that can also sort of play into anemias and things. So, you would just want to keep an eye on that. I don’t promote a vegan diet, but I think if somebody wants to follow a vegan diet, I’m perfectly happy for them to do that, as long as they’re monitoring their labs.

Andrew Schorr:

So, Dr. Mesa, and well, Julia, I’ll ask you first. Julia, did you make any changes when you were diagnosed with what became known as a cancer? Like in my case, Esther had us getting distilled water at the house. But I mean, did you do anything like that? She had me stop drinking coffee. I don’t mean to blame Esther. We lived in Seattle, where Starbucks came from, but we made challenges. Oh my god, does that have something to do with the cancer.

Julia Olff:

Right. I don’t remember then making any significant changes. I do feel like over time, and the more often I’m hospitalized, the more kind of militant I get about avoiding things that make me sicker, like cigarette smoke. Hate walking down the street and having to suck in someone else’s smoke. But dietarily, I just try to have organic vegetables. We have a filter – we do have a filtered water system in the house. Just try to avoid poisons or toxins as much as possible. You mentioned coffee, though, and I wondered what – there’s more research in general out there about the benefits of coffee. For me, coffee, I consider it to be part of my medication regimen. And I’m barely functional until I have that first cup. I literally come down and have a cup of coffee to shower. And I wonder if there’s – if others feel the same way.

Andrew Schorr:

So, Julie, what about caffeine? And also, could you say something about wine, too? Because beer – so many different things. Drink wine, don’t. Red wine, white wine. This leads to cancer. Who knows?

Julie Lanford:

Yeah. Everything, right? So, when you look at actual data – and I rely a lot on the American Institute for Cancer Research, who reviews every study that’s been done. And so, they come up with great recommendations and very commonsense, so I like that. They have tea. So, a lot of people have heard green tea is really good. So, yes, it is. But they also have coffee on their list. Now, the way you have the coffee – Andrew mentioned earlier, syrup in it – that’s why I tell people, if you go to Starbucks and you get four pumps of syrup in your whole milk with whipped cream on top mocha, that’s a dessert. But if you just brew coffee at home, and you put a little bit – I just use milk for mine – that’s perfectly healthy.

And it does have plant nutrients that are good for you. So, I consider it healthy. If you’re sensitive to caffeine and you know that it keeps you up, or whatever, you can get decaf. Or if you just don’t like coffee, drinking tea can give you great benefits as well. When it comes to alcohol, we do know that alcohol increases risk for cancer. I will say, that’s when you drink it regularly. So, that’s when we see people exceeding what we recommend as moderation. And so, if you don’t know the definition of moderation, I’ll teach you that. One drink a day for women, two drinks a day for men. I know, it seems not fair to us women. But that’s what we would say is moderation, and you don’t get to save those up for the weekend. Just because you’ve missed it all week, you don’t load up on the weekend and expect that to also meet the definition of moderation. But if you’re less than that, we consider it to be fine. Although when they said that red wine was good for the heart, they sort of backed away from that more recently.

 It’s the skin of the red grape that’s really good for you. So, it turns out, you can eat grapes. So, that’s my point on that.

Andrew Schorr:

Good advice. Dr. Mesa, we’ve gotten in a couple of questions I wanted to pose to you. One is from Dave and Karen. It says, does exercising affect blood test levels in any aspect? So, let’s say you were a runner, or biked, or went to the gym or something, on the day you were then gonna come to your clinic for a blood test, would the blood test be accurate or changed based on the exercise you just did?

Dr. Ruben Mesa:

It probably does impact it to a modest degree. Probably not to a significant degree. So, it might slightly increase the white cell count or the platelet count in kind of that immediate post-exercise period. And clearly, if someone were to be dehydrated, that will make the red blood cell count seem a little bit higher as well.

So, it can kind of both concentrate the blood a little bit, if you’re dehydrated, as well as if it’s really significant exercise and leads to any inflammation, might slightly boost up the white cell count or the platelet count. But again, talking modest levels. A 350 platelet count going to 400, not 350 going to 1.2 million. So, modest increases.

Andrew Schorr:

Right. And all the doctors have told me, you all look at the trends.

Dr. Ruben Mesa:

Correct. Correct. Absolutely. And for most regular spurts of going to the gym exercise, probably it’s not even noticeable. But if somebody again did an Iron Man triathlon, you’re gonna notice changes in the blood.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. Well, here’s a guy who’s pretty busy. Mark writes in. He says, I do an hour and a half every morning, stretches, planks, yoga, and even sun salutations. Sometimes I feel slight strain in my large spleen, but it’s never severe and always goes away.

So, he says, on a one to ten scale, Dr. Mesa, how much am I endangering myself, if at all?

Dr. Ruben Mesa:

You know, probably a two out of ten, from what it sounds like. Again, it may be more muscle strain, and it probably really isn’t injury of the spleen. But again, this particular activity that really causes muscle strain in that area, I would probably just modify the activity. Again, a very enlarged spleen is different anatomy than even we were kind of built to have. It’s much larger than normal. It’s asymmetric, so accommodating your exercise for that is appropriate. I would probably look at modifying the stretches if the stretches are irritating that.

Andrew Schorr:

Mm-hmm. Okay. So, one of the things I’ll just point out to people – and you mentioned it earlier, Dr. Mesa – is have a conversation with your doctor about where you are, how you’re feeling, what medicines you’re taking, what you like to eat.

And there are people who can help – now, Julie, you have a website where people can send in questions to you. What’s that website?

Julie Lanford:

Yeah. It is, and it’s part of our nonprofit, so there’s no fees or anything.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. Now, that’s very helpful. So, Julia, do you recognize that we with an MPN are sort of a moving target? That whatever is normal or feels good to us may change over time. We have to accept that, but that’s part of our dialogue with our healthcare team as to exercise, diet, medication, what’s right for us at that, point? It’s not static.

Julie Olff:


Andrew Schorr:

I feel that. And that’s where my dialogue is with my doctor. So, just one last thing. I want to make sure I heard you right, Ruben.

So, contact sports – so, should I worry about biking if my platelets have been lower? That I’m gonna have some accident and I’m gonna bleed to death on the road or something?

Dr. Ruben Mesa:

Well, I would say, with 40,000 platelets, I probably would not do kind of the off-road trail cycling with high likelihood of running into rocks or things like that in Arizona, where it can be a bit treacherous. But if you’re really thinking about more gentle cycling, road cycling, particularly if you – and appropriately – are wearing a helmet, it’s probably fine still at that range. At 40,000 platelets, most individuals, even with fairly significant trauma, will still have the same reasonable clotting as other individuals. One probably could have emergency surgery at that level, barring really extreme trauma.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. And the reverse is, if you had really high platelets, and you’re worried about stroke and other things like that, you’re still not worried that somebody’s gonna run around the block, and that’s gonna put them over the edge?

Dr. Ruben Mesa:

I think that’s highly unlikely, without question. Again, whether they’re high and they need treatment or don’t need treatment, clearly it’s a discussion between the patient and their physician. But in general, appropriate exercise with adequate hydration, or clearly exercise that people have really evolved into, as opposed to a dramatic change in activity level, is usually quite safe.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. Well, I’m gonna try to work yoga into what I do. My balance is terrible, but I’m gonna try to do – what is it, downward dog, if I can. And they do it my gym, so I’m gonna try that. And Julie, just as far as diet goes, people can write you.

And again,, right?

Julie Landon:


Andrew Schorr:

And I think, again, I mean, it sounds like a broken record, but we talk about the healthy diet, fruits, vegetables, some protein, some meat balance, and not crazy about supplements, right?

Julie Landon:

Right, yeah. Unless there’s a reason that you would need a supplement, I don’t think that the general person just needs to be on one. If you like the idea, a multivitamin that should not break your bank would be fine, and you could even do that every other day, and still, it’d be fine. But it’s not necessary, as far as I’m concerned.

Andrew Schorr:

Well, I want to thank both of you for being with us. So, Julia, as we wrap up, and you’ve been listening as a patient as well and living it, what do you take away from this?

Julia Olff:

I guess I’m thinking about it very personally, that I feel like I’m on the right track. I’m trying to do as much as I can to be well,  and to be well around a disease that we can’t control.

Andrew Schorr:

Right. Well, I have a great – I think, for all of us. I have a good medical team. People like Dr. Mesa, people that may be at your clinic, like Julie, who can help with diet. Social workers as well. And also, you said it earlier, Ruben – accept that normal for you changes, that we do have a condition. I mean, we even refer to people with extreme interventions like a transplant, that you’re in a recovery mode, and you do what you can. And but doing something is a benefit.

I want to thank you all. Dr. Ruben Mesa, I’m gonna see you at ASH coming up. And Ruben, thank you so much for joining us, once again.

Dr. Ruben Mesa:

A great pleasure to be here. Thank you. Great discussion.

Andrew Schorr:

Okay. And Ruben, thanks for your devotion to all of us and to research. We really appreciate it. Julie Lanford with Cancer Services in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where I spent like 12 years of my life, in North Carolina, thank you so much for being with us, once again.

Julie Lanford:

Thank you for having me. It’s been great.

Andrew Schorr:

And Julia, I’ll see you back in New York City one of these days.

Julie Olff:

All right.

Andrew Schorr:

But I want to wish you all the best. And you and I are on a journey with myelofibrosis now. But every day is special. But we hope we have a lot of them. And enjoy your family and your grandchild. What is her name, Elaina?

Julie Olff:

Elaina. Yes, I’ll see her for the holidays.

Andrew Schorr:

I’m looking for grandchildren, so you can give me pointers. But all the best to you.

Julie Olff:

It’s fun.

Andrew Schorr:

Yeah. Thank you so much.

Julie Olff:

You get to give them back.

Andrew Schorr:

Yeah. Thank you so much for being with us. And I just want to mention to our audience, Dr. Mesa referred to it, the kind of World Series of blood-related conditions is the American Society of Hematology. And there’ll be 25,000-plus people there.

And we’ll be there with our team, getting the latest information and bringing it to you, even some live broadcasting. So, if you are not a member of patient power, go to, sign up for the ASH daily updates. And whatever there is about MPNs, we’re gonna bring it to you. And there will be a replay of this Patient Empowerment Network program coming soon that you can share and go over again. Thank you so much for joining us. We wish everybody the best of health. Go out there and do what exercise that you can. A little more is probably better. And think of yoga, and also that balanced diet. I’m Andrew Schorr in Carlsbad, California, feeling good about things. Remember, knowledge can be the best medicine of all.

MPN Patient Cafe® October 2017 – Value in Communicating with Friends and Family

MPN Patient Cafe® – Value in Communicating with Family and Friends from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

In this session of the Patient Cafe®, a group of MPN patients share their experience in communicating with family, friends and others about their condition. Each person has a unique perspective on how they’ve relayed information to their employer, educated their family and friends or, in some cases, kept to themselves for a period of time.

MPN Patient Cafe® October 2017 – Tips for Managing Life After Diagnosis

MPN Patient Cafe® – Taking Back Control – Tips for Managing Life After Diagnosis from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

A panel of MPN patients and care partners discuss taking back control and share their tips for managing their new normal after diagnosis.

Wondering how YOU can advance MPN research?

September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month and we’ve spent the month focusing on ways you can become a more empowered patient. If you missed our recent webinar: What YOU can do to advance MPN Research, the replay is now available. As always, we’d love to hear from you about ways you’ve empowered yourself!

MPN Patient Cafe® July 2017 – Finding Trustworthy Information

Patient Cafe® MPN – July 2017 from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Carol Preston is join by MPN patient, Andrea, and her care partner, Denise in this session of the Patient Cafe®. They discuss where MPN patients and their care partners can go to find trustworthy information.

Living Well with MPNs – What You Should Know About Genetic Mutations

What You Should Know About Genetic Mutations

Living Well With MPNs: What You Should Know About Genetic Mutations from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Should you get a genetic test? JAK2, MPL, CALR, ASXL1: Mutations associated with myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) can bring up lots of questions. What do they mean, and how do they impact your disease? The goal of this webinar, featuring Dr. Alison Moliterno from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Dr. Stephen Oh from Washington University School of Medicine, is to help patients understand genetic mutations.


Andrew Schorr: Hello and welcome to this Patient Empowerment Network program, produced by Patient Power. I’m Andrew Schorr joining you from Carlsbad, California. Over the next hour we’re going to talk about something that’s very personal to me and probably to you, and that is the whole idea of genetics related to living with an MPN. What does it mean? Does it change over time? What is your version of an MPN? What does it mean for prognosis? What does it mean for treatment? What does it mean for clinical trials opportunities? So we’re going to be discussing all of that.

I want to thank our sponsor, Incyte Corporation for supporting this educational activity. We’re going to cover the country and we invite your questions as we go along. Send them to Many of you have. And remember if you have to bow out at some point, the replay will be available and we’ll have video clips. So we’ll reach literally a few thousand people living with MPN worldwide, and we’re happy to do that.

Let’s get started. First I want to introduce you to one of our medical experts who’s joining us. He’s been on programs before. He joins us from Washington University and the Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis; that’s Dr. Stephen Oh, who is an MPN expert there. Dr. Oh, thank you so much for joining us.

Dr. Stephen Oh: Hi, Andrew. Thanks for having me.

Andrew Schorr: Thank you, Stephen. Okay, let’s go from St. Louis to Baltimore, Maryland and the Johns Hopkins University Medical Center and another expert in MPNs who’s been with us before, and that is Dr. Alison Moliterno. Dr. Moliterno, thank you so much for being with us today.

Dr. Alison Moliterno: Thank you, Andrew. Thank you for having me.

Andrew Schorr: Sure, pleasure. We’ve got a lot to cover. And then also I want to welcome back one of the members of our community, someone who was diagnosed many years ago, a couple of decades ago with ET, and then a year ago it became myelofibrosis. She’s a preschool teacher in Peoria, Illinois. She’s been with us on our programs before; Marsha Krone. Marsha, thank you for being with us once again.

Marsha: Thank you. Hi, Andrew.

Andrew Schorr: Marsha, let’s visit for a minute. I was diagnosed in 2011 and then eventually had a genetic test which came up with a bunch of results. One of them for me, if I get it right, JAK2V617F.

I had no idea what that was, and then a couple of other genes that to me seemed kind of like alphabet soup. And I had one of the peers of these experts here, Katrina Jamison. We went over it and she said I think it’s the JAK that’s kind of driving things. We’re going to talk about what are the driver genes, and what may not be, or what do we know at this point. Marsha, you had a genetic test, too. What did it say?

Marsha: My genetic test came out as Calreticulin type 2.

Andrew Schorr: Okay, so we’re going to figure out what that means. Dr. Oh, let’s start this way. People think genetics. I know genetics maybe had something to do with being bald, and I see you have a similar hairline; or dark hair, or brown eyes, or whatever. Hereditary genes; are we talking about that or are we talking about something different?

Dr. Stephen Oh: That’s a basic question that comes up with almost every new patient that I see.

The short answer is that when we’re talking about genetics with relation to the MPNs, we’re not talking about those kind of things that you’re born with that may affect your hairline and whatnot. These are genetic mutations that are acquired over time that you’re not born with; they’re not passed down to your children or your relatives, etc. So that is a very important distinction that I try to make clear with every new patient that I see.

Andrew Schorr: Okay, and one follow up question to you. People say okay, Doc, what gave me this genetic injury, if you will, to lead to these illnesses? Do we know?

Dr. Stephen Oh: That’s another question I cover with almost every new patient; that I think for that one I guess the answer is a little less satisfying. My answer is that for the most part it’s random chance.

What I mean by that is that we know particularly from research that’s come out n the last five or so years that all of us acquire mutations randomly over time as we age. But fortunately for most individuals, those mutations land in spots where they really have little to no consequence. But for those that, for instance, acquire the JAK2V617F mutation or acquire a Calreticulin mutation, that really becomes most likely the main driver for what ultimately becomes an MPN.

Patients of course ask did I do something wrong, was I exposed to something? And while we can’t necessarily exclude that those are factors, I think for the most part it’s that just kind of randomly these mutations landed in the wrong place.

Andrew Schorr: Dr. Moliterno, we’ve mentioned a couple of these onco genes I think you call them – cancer genes, the JAK2 gene and Calreticulin type 2, I didn’t even know about that.

Can you first of all rattle off some of them just so we know the landscape of what are genes that seem to be associated with MPNs today, knowing that this will probably expand?

Dr. Alison Moliterno: I always like to tell patients a little bit about the history when these were first diagnosed because we talk about them now as if they’re common knowledge, but they are really quite recent in our understanding. We’ve known about the myeloproliferative diseases for more than 100 years, but it wasn’t until 2005 until the driver of many of the diseases was understood to be JAK2V617F. So that discovery occurred in 2005. Before the JAK2 discovery, we didn’t understand really if it was acquired mutations and what genes were involved. JAK2 is the most common of these.

If you look at 100 patients with the classical MPN, meaning PD, ET, and myelofibrosis, 75 percent overall of those individuals will have the JAK2V617F mutation. Not long after the JAK2V617F mutation there was a discovery in mutations in M-P-L or MPL. That accounts for about 5 percent of those 100 individuals with either ET or myelofibrosis and then in 2013, that was the discovery of the calreticulin mutations that comprise about 20 percent of individuals who have ET or myelofibrosis. So 2013, that’s fairly recent and those are the three drivers.

I like to say that if you could put the same mutation, the JAK2V617F or Cal or MPL mutations that we see in our patients, if you could put those, say, in a mouse; they would drive a similar disease in the mouse so that you get polycythemia vera in a mouse if you make the mouse have the V617F mutation. That’s how we’ve kind of come to understand that they drive the disease. They may not drive all aspects of it but they drive the basic process.

Andrew Schorr: I know there’s another gene that people have seen too; ASXL1. What is that one?

Dr. Alison Moliterno: In addition to these drivers we’ve also discovered a lot of genes that seem to modify the MPN or associate with certain subtypes of MPN. So for instance I said usually JAK2 MPL or CALR can all drive platelet count high and give a disease like ET. Then what happens when patients develop myelofibrosis? We find that perhaps other lesions are acquired.

Those are genes that don’t drive myeloproliferation so much but they seem to drive the way that the chromatin or the nucleus is managed; they seem to maybe set up the other aspects of MPN that associate with myelofibrosis. And ASXL1 is probably the most common additional genetic lesion or acquired mutation that occurs in individuals with myelofibrosis.

Andrew Schorr: Okay. Dr. Oh, people may be tested and we’re going to talk about who should be tested and when. How do you know what’s the driver gene? And it sounds like this continuation of identifying genes just keeps going, too.

Dr. Stephen Oh:Certainly Dr. Moliterno gave a nice circle overview of when the three primary driver mutations were discovered.

We’re sort of lucky now that in today’s day and age we kind of look at this now as standard testing. So JAK2, MPL and calreticulin so much so that many physicians including myself, we kind of go about this in an algorithmic fashion. So for instance if I have a patient with newly diagnosed myelofibrosis, I’ll start by screening for the JAK2 mutation; if that’s negative, go to Calreticulin and if that’s negative go to MPL.

And so with those three genes, the majority of patients with any of the three main MPN subtypes, whether that’s QV, ET, or myelofibrosis; they’ll be positive for one of those three. There’s a subset that’s at least on the order of 10 to 15 percent of patients with ET and myelofibrosis who will be negative for all three of those mutations, what we’re now calling the triple negative category. But the vast majority of MPN patients will have one of these three mutations which we consider the main driver of mutations.

So, in some sense again we’re sort of fortunate that it’s become almost straightforward in terms of at least the top level genetic testing for these diseases.

Andrew Schorr: So that was my question to you, Dr. Moliterno. Some people have maybe had fights with their insurance company or their doctor as related to testing. How do you view this now and how could it be positioned on how it’s really not elected, if you will, but essential to get a clear picture of an individual patient’s situation?

Dr. Alison Moliterno: This comes up in my practice and I’m sure Dr. Oh’s practice all the time, in that in the olden days before our understanding of what causes these diseases, and again the cause was these acquired mutations and in the olden days we would use histology, looking under the microscope, looking at blood counts and sort of put a name to this polycythemia vera and myelofibrosis.

But within that was such a vast variability of what the disease actually was, that that name really did not tell us too much. Now, we’ve really come to understand that what you have is defined by these molecular lesions. They’re not just of academic interest; they actually really tell us quite a bit about what you’ve got, what your prognosis is, and where it’s going. So physicians, we really can’t function and counsel patients appropriately without this knowledge. So there’s no longer elective or of interest; it’s really critical in defining what you’ve got.

Andrew Schorr: Okay, everybody. You heard it, so this is what you’re advocating for with your MPN specialists, which hopefully you have like the two with us. This is standard operating procedure; there shouldn’t be nay question with an insurance company or anybody to help you and your doctor know what you’re dealing with

But then the next question is, Dr. Oh, where are we now even in research, where things are headed so there will be treatments that line up with the different genetic situation?

Dr. Stephen Oh: I’ll start my answer to that question by going back to when the field began to develop inhibitors of JAK2 for the treatment of patients with MPNs and extrapolating from other diseases, I think there was an assumption that the patients that would respond best or if at all to JAK2 inhibitors would be those that carry the JAK2V617F mutation. What we now know quite clearly is that even those patients that do not carry the JAK2 mutation, they also tend to respond to JAK2 inhibition. So again in the case of myelofibrosis, patients who are calreticulin mutants, they also respond to JAK2 inhibitors as well.

So that’s an example where I think in a good way the use of those kinds of treatments is not limited or defined or restricted mutational profile. But otherwise in terms of the research front, identifying or defining treatments specific to different mutations, we haven’t made a lot of headway there. For instance, you can imagine now we have identified the calreticulin mutation in many patients with MPNs; can we devise a treatment specific for that? So while again on the one hand like I mentioned, it’s a good thing that those patients do respond to JAK 2 inhibitors; can we come up with something very specific to calreticulin with the patients there?

There are certainly a number of research groups that are working on that kind of question, but we currently do not have anything specific in that regard.

Andrew Schorr: Dr. Moliterno, I want to get a question from you about that because I’m sure you’re asked. Somebody says well – Marsha could come to you and say well, I’m CALR so what do you have for me? And/or you also mentioned triple negative, and I think often I’ve heard that term in breast cancer; women who were triple negative there, and say what do you have for me in that situation? So talk to us a little bit about those situations, and does it vary now with treatment approaches yet?

Dr. Alison Moliterno: I think another aspect of this is we may not today have the specifically targeted treatment but as Dr. Oh mentioned, what we’ve learned is that these three main lesions, CALR, MPL, and JAK2 all seem to over signal or work their effects through this JAK pathway.

So even though you may not have the JAK2 mutation but you have the CALR, it seems like the end result of over signaling is in the same pathway and therefore JAK inhibitors would be beneficial in individuals who have that over signaling pathway. So that’s one thing we’ve taken away; that while even though we don’t have – and that’s a good thing because that tells us that inhibiting this pathway overall will benefit the majority of individuals with these lesions, whether they’re JAK2 or CALR or MPL.

The other thing about the profiling is how much of the mutation you have. So another I think we’ve learned is that we can measure the amount of these mutations, and that’s a variable across patients and gives us quite a bit of information about – again – the type of lesion, disease you have and gives us  better information about the prognosis and why you might have a little more fibrosis than someone else.

So again, the type of lesion you have and the amount; we’re now learning to use that information. I think another thing we’ve learned is these terms triple negative, which is a term that we understand okay, that means you don’t have any of the three drivers that we know of.

But as we’re learning more about extended mutation paneling or doing different tests to look at the entire genes, we’re finding that most of those individuals really do have lesions in the JAK2 gene, or the CALR gene or MPL that maybe aren’t in the specific areas that the test was sent for. So that’s another benefit of this revolution in being able to define these lesions personally so that your disease really can be diagnosed.

Andrew Schorr: Okay Marsha, you’ve been sitting there quietly and I wonder, is this making sense to you? You’re my co-host with this; is it making sense?

Marsha: It does make sense. When I first was diagnosed, they just said you simply have ET because you have it. Then they discovered more mutations. I like to know everything about how my body is working, so I wonder how valuable it is to have additional genetic testing to see if you have other mutations that may affect prognosis?

Andrew Schorr: Right. So Stephen, and also like serial testing at some other time? She went from ET to MF over many years, so when do you test again or how does this change?

Dr. Stephen Oh: Speaking sort of broadly at first, the more extensive genetic testing which is available through numerous laboratories now, which can test for any – quite often these panels went through 20 or 40 genes; some of them hundreds or more.

The use of those in the clinic has evolved pretty rapidly over the past three, four, five years. In my own practice five years ago I was certainly not routinely recommending that kind of testing. But today, particularly with patients with myelofibrosis, I am doing it much more frequently and the question of course is as you raised; what utility does it have in terms of prognosis.

And there especially I think in myelofibrosis, is where more and more literature has come out giving us a better handle on what effect these different mutations might have on prognosis. That’s why more and more I’m beginning to recommend this kind of testing for my patients with MF.

In the case of QV and ET, it’s a little bit further behind in terms of data to indicate what these different mutations might mean, but we have also seen more literature come out, not as often but do consider that kind of testing for those patients as well. In every case it’s kind of an individualized discussion with the patient. I always start out with how much do you want to know. Marsha said I want to know everything, so that’s the kind of patient where you say alright, well, maybe let’s do this.

Others say well, I don’t really necessarily know I’m going to interpret this; it’s alphabet soup. Do I necessarily want to know what the statistics say to expect in 20 years, etc.? Again, it’s an individualized decision with every patient.

Andrew Schorr: Dr. Moliterno, there was another patient who was going to join us who couldn’t make it because she’s being scheduled for a transplant. She’s getting her life in order for that; someone with I think myelofibrosis in the Seattle area.

But she did have three mutations identified, so let’s see if this makes sense: ALX1, if I get it right, TP53 and SFB1, if those are other ones? So the fact that she has this sort of alphabet soup, does that mean that that meant you’re headed for transplant because that shows up? You know, one knows is more – more weighty, if you will.

Dr. Alison Moliterno: This is knowledge that we’re kind of pulling in as we speak, and that the meaning of more than one mutation, different types of mutations do seem to have prognostic significance.

So as we’ve learned that generally the more mutations you have, more individuals at a certain point of time generally is concerning. It means that there’s a lot going on in that stem cell and that maybe there’s some instability to allow these mutations to occur. And then it does matter which type. Some mutations seem to have more independent prognostic than others. ASXL1 tends to be one that is seemingly more associated with developing myelofibrosis. SF3B1, one of those she has, may be a less negative prognostic indicator.

But again, these are important and having three at once is a concern, and it sounds like a reasonable plan to move forward with transplant because we understand that we don’t really have a medicine that can address all of those lesions and that this is more high risk disease.

Andrew Schorr: I want to remind our audience a couple of things. One is you’re hearing how sophisticated the testing is, and then you can imagine the interpretation.

We have two noted experts. The typical hematologist is not going to see this very often. So whether you go to Washington University, I go to UC San Diego, Marsha goes to the Lurie Cancer Center, Dr. Moliterno is at Johns Hopkins. You know some of the others where you go; you want to consult with an MPN specialist. As the data comes back, what does it mean for me now or on your journey in the future.

The other point I wanted to make is of course we want to take your questions. So send them to and our wonderful MPN community manager, Jamie, is standing by and she’ll be forwarding these to me. Obviously, a lot of you ask very personal questions; what should I do, Dr. Moliterno, Dr. Oh; I’ve got XYZ. And that’s not fair to do that here, so that’s our disclaimer. You want to go back to your MPN specialist – it could be one of them – to discuss it.

We did get some questions in earlier. Dr. Oh, Tammy wrote in and she said can you provide more information on being PV JAK2 negative? She says I know we’re limited in number compared to other patients. It would be nice to know the basics. How much more different are we and is our treatment any different? So, JAK negative PV.

Dr. Stephen Oh: That’s a great question and it’s a challenging question. I would say that in part because we know that in the case of PV, at least 95 percent or greater of patients with bonafide PV carry the JAK2V617F mutation and it’s at least 95 percent; it may be higher than that. And even those that are negative to the JAK2V617F mutation, there’s another small group, probably less than 1 percent, who carry an alternative JAK2 mutation, an exon 12.

 So between those two, patients with PV, again the vast majority do have a mutation in JAK2. That does leave a small sliver that you could call JAK2 negative PV, and there – it’s sort of being a skeptic – the first thing I say when I’m asked to evaluate a potential case like that is am I convinced that is the correct diagnosis? Do they truly have PV versus a potentially secondary cause of erythrocytosis?

And so there, sort of again you have to rely on the old school diagnostic criteria; do they otherwise have the features of the disease? Does the bone marrow, is it consistent with the diagnosis? Are they like a classic patient in that they have a low epo level, etc. But to get to more specifically to the question, if you’re convinced that that’s the correct diagnosis, essentially I treat the patient the same way I would treat a JAK2 positive PV patient.

In other words, I would use the same kind of treatment calls in terms of a hematocrit less than 45, treat them with cytoreductive therapy and the appropriate circumstance if they’re considered high risk, if they have had a prior history of thrombosis; aspirin considered standard therapy for these patients. Again, if I do believe that is the correct diagnosis, I essentially treat them similarly to patients with JAK2 positive PV.

Andrew Schorr: Okay, and Alison, do you concur in that?

Dr. Alison Moliterno: I do. I think we have a name for the disease, polycythemia vera, where you make too many cells due to an inherent stimulus of the bone marrow. I think now in this age, we are really coming to redefine PV as the disease that has mutations in the JAK2 gene. I’m always concerned when someone has been diagnosed with JAK2 negative PV because as Dr. Oh says, maybe they have something else.

A couple circumstances that I’ve observed is that sometimes the diagnostic testing, when it was done and it was done with JAK2V617F testing that was not sensitive enough. So again we have this issue of how much of this do you have? And some PV patients can have very low levels of the JAK2 mutation that if you use an assay in a laboratory that wasn’t very sensitive and you only detected levels of 10 or 20 percent, they would be read out as negative. That’s happened in my practice a few times where patients went high and low all over the place trying to get a diagnosis; JAK2 negative. Finally when a more sophisticated or sensitive test was done, they’re positive.

The other issue is that there are other mutations aside from V617F in the JAK2 as Dr. Oh said; there’s exon 12 and then there are some others in various parts.

So when we do some of this more expanded molecular profiling, the laboratories are able to look not just at the V617F site, which is where most tests – they only tell you yes or no at that site; but they’ll look at the entire part of the coding region of the JAK2 gene. You’ll find patients who have an unusual mutation down the way that’s like – And I think it’s important because there are some people who really don’t have a myeloproliferative neoplasm; they have something else and they’ve been told for 25 years that they have PV.

And it is nice to either make that diagnosis or not. And so I think Stephen has been in that situation also, where maybe they were labeled because that was the best information we had at the time, but they really should be reevaluated.

Andrew Schorr: And I think that’s the point for our audiences. You with the best testing, with the best specialists you can get to, you want to know what you’re dealing with; what is your situation.

Here’s a question we got so Marsh, just for you. You mentioned at the beginning, Marsha, that you have CALR type 2. Can you describe that? So let’s make sense of that. There was a support group leader, Kim, who wrote in. Kim wanted to know how do CALR types 1 and 2 manifest and progress? Dr. Oh, what’s the difference between CALR1 and CALR2? What does it mean?

Dr. Stephen Oh: There are a variety of different types of mutations in the calreticulin gene, but the so-called type 1 mutations are the most common and the type 2 are the second most common; slightly different. Functionally they may have slightly different effects, although I think as a class, these calreticulin patients have more similarities than they do differences.

But there has been some literature to suggest that overall, calreticulin mutations are felt to be associated with a more favorable prognosis, at least compared to patients whoa re JAK2 mutant or perhaps triple negative. But specifically those that have the type 1 calreticulin mutation, the data is strongest that they have the most favorable prognosis. So based on that, you could say – the simplest thing is to say if you’re calreticulin mutant, you have a more favorable prognosis.

But perhaps the more nuanced is that that is particularly so for those that have the type 1 calreticulin mutation. In Marsha’s case it’s interesting, and to me a little bit of a paradox in that type 2 calreticulin mutations are, relatively speaking, more common in ET than they are in myelofibrosis.

So in that sense it’s perhaps not surprising that she has the type 2 calreticulin mutation. But overall, of course, ET has a more favorable prognosis than MF so it’s a little, in that way, a bit of a paradox. And the other way to look at this, and this has certainly happened for myself and I’m sure it happens with Dr. Moliterno is these patients with ET or myelofibrosis who were diagnosed many years prior, before calreticulin testing became available, you then tested for the mutation and confirm they were calreticulin once that test became available.

It’s one of those sort of: well, I just confirmed what I already knew which is that they had a more indirect course over these many years.

Andrew Schorr: It’s just amazing. Fortunately we can talk about this, and hopefully the word better prognosis sounds ] great.

So I, with primary myelofibrosis diagnosed with the JAK2V617F gene, Dr. Moliterno. But when you talk about prognosis, now you’re introducing medicines that we haven’t had that long; like for me. I’ve been on ruxolitinib now four and a half years and it’s been working. So how do we – when you talk about prognosis related to genes, though, that relates to what treatments you have, right?

Dr. Alison Moliterno: Right. We have a lot of work because these genes do have meaning; what version you have, and they’re going to have meanings in terms of prognosis but hopefully also we’ll start to gain information about really how you respond to therapy. So far, it seems that it doesn’t matter too much whether you have JAK2 or CALR mutation in response for  ruxolitinib.

But I think as we extend or molecular profiling, maybe we will learn that some lesions are less responsive or less favorably responsive to have some of these agents, and might be more responsive to agents that we have in the future. So I think we have to use this information both diagnostically, prognostically, and also just kind of monitoring our treatment expectations to some of these new agents.

Andrew Schorr: Right, it’s a moving target and I know you have a few things in trials. So just to tie the knot on testing, Dr. Oh; somebody wrote in and said: look, my doctor doesn’t require genetic tests. Where do I start and how do I ask for it? Because we’re hearing the two of you saying it’s pretty standard for you to get a clear picture of what the situation is. So is, how shall I say it, self advocacy related to testing today for an MPN patient important?

Dr. Stephen Oh: I think it definitely is. These diseases, while they’re not super rare, they’re not as common as hypertension or whatnot. When you go to a hematologist or oncologist who does not see very many of these types of patients, they might not be TransDigm on the testing that’s available. And so from that standpoint, I think certainly self advocacy is important. This has been emphasized already but getting to an MPN specialist is important.

If we’re talking about in the workup stage, it’s just sort of imagine different scenarios. There certainly could be a situation where the physician, whether they’re an MPN specialist or a more general hematologist or oncologist; they may not feel there’s a testing and that could certainly be the case.


But if there is a strong suspicion of a possible MPN, then I think there’s no question this kind of testing should be done. Even in the situation I’ve encountered with some patients where the insurance may require preauthorization, if you go through that it’s almost never rejected.

Andrew Schorr: Dr. Moliterno, here’s a question we got in from Jane. Jane writes: my understanding is that JAK2 is an acquired genetic mutation, and you both spoke about that; not inherited so we’re clear on that. Is it known what variables cause this mutation? I got the impression from what Steve said, no. But then she asks; can this gene expression be reversed?

Dr. Alison Moliterno: Right. First, why did this happen. I always joke with my patients; I tend to think MPN patients tend to be the most highly educated, intelligent, beautiful and have healthy lifestyles; why would they get this? MPN or not, disease is a lifestyle or other processes that we can sort of point to. I think in terms of if we just focus on JAK2V617F, that’s an acquired mutation in the bone marrow stem cell, but we’ve come to learn that this is a fairly common mistake, acquiring this mutation.

So if you look at my bone marrow stem cells, you can find evidence that this occurs frequently as a mistake; almost like a typing error that we all make on our keyboards, and that this happens at a fairly high rate. Most of the time as Dr. Oh mentioned, it is deleted or it’s in a cell that doesn’t have a long lived lifespan so it really doesn’t propagate in the bone marrow.

 Some fascinating studies looking at the cause of this; what are the factors? So, this Danish study looked at 43,000 individuals that participated in a healthy Danish lifestyle activity. They said they had stored DNA samples from blood. These were well people; they did not have myleoproliferative disease. But they found that they could detect the JAK2 mutation, V617F in a reasonable percentage of these well individuals, and that this was more prevalent the older they got. So that over 80, I think it was .2 percent of individuals actually tested positive for this. They were able to look back and show that yes, most of these people didn’t have an MPN, although some of them did have higher blood counts.

When they followed them, some of them did go on to develop MPN. But the point of that is wow, this is a common, natural occurrence and it most strongly associated with aging. Most MPN patients are in their mid 50s when they’re diagnosed; some very young and some are much older. So again, while gee, 50 isn’t that old, 50’s not that old. So again, there must be other factors that allow that to occur. And these large population studies, I think smoking has been an association; again maybe helps accelerate that mutation growing.

There’s host factors, and that maybe we have reasons that we will make that mistake more often; s genes that we have perhaps that we’ve inherited that influence how well we have integrity in our DNA. So that just gets a little to why did this occur.

Andrew Schorr: What about turning it back, though?

Dr. Alison Moliterno: Right, turning it back and I think this is another thing that is important. Again, when we think about surveillance, we do know there are some therapies that can specifically turn down or squash that clone and I think many of us have heard or even experienced patients who are on interferon, or pegasys, pegylated interferon. And we can see that if JAK2 disease can go into a hematologic remission and even molecular remission that the JAK2 clonal burden reduces and may even go to zero.

This has also been shown with CALR mutation positive individuals in small studies that perhaps we can suppress that. So we hope someday to – it’s still a little frustrating; not all patients have that benefit. It’s not clear which patients will go into these molecular remissions of turning it down.

But I think we will get there and we hope that JAK2 inhibitors would have that effect. I think the data still there are not pointing in that direction, but I think we will ultimately be able to actually target that clone and control how it expands and turn it back.

Andrew Schorr: So Stephen, take us into your labs and into the research that’s going on around the world. How fast is this changing now? Alison talked about 2005 with JAK2 discovery and you had CALR and some of these others. What’s the rate of change now?

Dr. Stephen Oh: I think there’s different perspectives you can look at this. For those of us that are doing laboratory research, we feel in the field that things have progressed quite rapidly.

To go from 2005 discovery of the JAK2 mutation to small molecule inhibitors going into patients I think within two years or less to this one drug being FDA approved a few days later; that pace of discovery and development has been quite rapid. The identification of the calreticulin mutation in addition to MPL, those are really landmark discoveries in this field.

For patients, I think the perspective might be that wow, I wish it could move faster and we kind of know as a class in general what JAK inhibitors do; can we move onto the next level, or next phase, or next class of treatments? And I think there is where my long term outlook is very optimistic, but in the short term we don’t really have that  kind of next candidate clearly identified as to what to do next after the JAK inhibitors.

Andrew Schorr: Dr. Moliterno, we always talk about clinical trials. This relates to the progress you all are trying to make. We’re your partners in that. As you do the testing and you say oh, now we see this gene, and we see this one and this one and we’re trying to figure out who’s the bad guy, or is this new one a factor that we’ve identified? So what would you say to us as we lived hopefully long term with these conditions about considering being in a clinical trial to help you make these discoveries?

Dr. Alison Moliterno: We have had great support from our patients, not only in participating but also helping design these trials or partnering with us. As Stephen said, these are rare diseases so we don’t have 50,000 individuals to test whether aspirin works or not like you can in a cardiology trial, and get that answer in a year and make a difference for individuals.

I would say that the trials now are going to be a lot more molecularly based. So instead of just disease, MF yes or now; these trials are now going to have the molecular profiling and response to therapy as part of their design. I think that will give us a lot more information overall than we’ve had in the past. So there’s many benefits to this molecular revolution.

One is understanding the cause of the disease, the other is monitoring it over time, and then response to trials which individuals respond to; which therapies. I think we’ve all seen the television ads about Keytruda and patients, as you mentioned early on with different solid tumors and particularly lung cancer, and how really the profile of that tumor needs to specific targeted therapy, and that’s what we want for MPN.

 Then now we’re even learning that it really doesn’t matter where a cancer may have started; if it’s in the kidney or in the lung, that again the molecular – the drivers of that indicate that you may respond regardless of what organ it started in; it’s really the lesion that you’ve got. And I think we will be bringing that to MPN patient trials.

Andrew Schorr: I’m involved in an initiative called Precision Medicine for Me, and it started in lung cancer but it is about this testing to see is there either existing therapies or investigation ones that line up. Or F dot now and as you know one of the major cancer medical societies called ASCO, American Society of Clinical Oncology.

The whole mission of the new president, a guy named Bruce Johnson from Dana Farber in Boston, a lung cancer specialist, is that these precision medicine approaches of each patient and their doctor knowing what are they dealing with at the molecular level to push that out throughout oncology; certainly in the U.S. if not worldwide. So I think we’re all in this together. Marsha, you’ve been listening patiently.

Now you’ve had this transition from ET many years, which Stephen was talking about we know often a very good prognosis. But then it changed, and a little scarier. I’ve already started that point, myelofibrosis. But when you hear this, how do you feel, just listening?

Marsha: I think when I was first diagnosed I was scared to death. But I think through education, I’ve learned to calm down and I just try to tell myself that this isn’t a sprint in my case, hopefully it’s going to be a marathon.

And until then, I’m just going to learn what I can do to help myself. I’m very curious about additional mutations; however my doctor said that really would not affect the treatment I would be currently undergoing. And the big thing, insurance, has come about. He’s very concerned about whether or not insurance would cover the cost and the value of it.

Andrew Schorr: Right. Stephen, is this – it sounds like maybe we’re making progress with insurance companies; that they want us to get a clearer picture with our doctor? What’s your take on that now?

Dr. Stephen Oh: The driver mutations, the JAK2, MPL< calreticulin testing, I think it should be and almost always is covered by insurance.

But when you get into the more extensive genetic testing, that’s where the insurance companies will often balk at covering it. Then it becomes somewhat problematic as to is this really worthwhile. Obviously that the costs for it and for any particular patient can vary in terms of what insurance will cover, what the copay is, and what they can reasonably afford. In general, while I do believe that there’s much utility to this kind of testing these days, if the cost is prohibitive I do not push it and I certainly do not think it’s mandatory.

Andrew Schorr: Dr. Moliterno, and I’ll mention to our audience we have a few more minutes; if you have a question and we haven’t covered it, please send in your question to,

Dr. Moliterno, so we have the JAK inhibitor now, ruxolitinib. There are others that are being tested in various trials. As you look not just at the genes but at the treatments, are you fairly encouraged there that you will have a broader array to line up with people’s different situations, and also what the side effects of treatment, if somebody gets anemic or whatever their profile is?

Dr. Alison Moliterno: Yes, I am very optimistic. I think many of us, again if you look back at where we were five years ago in terms of the options that we have and where we assume we’re going to be in five years, hence I think there’s lots of room for application of these therapies, for combination therapies to use therapies together, even the ones that we have. So I’m very optimistic.

And I think I would say it is very anxiety-provoking to hear you need molecular profiling, and yet your doctor is saying we don’t really need that, or we’re concerned about the cost, which is certainly a concern. One thing I always say is that’s fine; the molecular profiling isn’t going to go away as an option, and the cost will come down in the next few years. We are now able to do things that we couldn’t even imagine we could do clinically in terms of looking at all aspects of genes, and this cost will come down.

So I would say to, for instance Marsha, yes we may not need it today but we can always get it in two years when things are different in terms of the availability of it and the interpretation of it. So again, I think it is reasonable to say your treatment is this, you’re responding well; happily we don’t need this at the moment.

I would agree with that, but I’m also certain that in three or four years, we won’t be having this discussion so much about the cost of this testing.

Andrew Schorr: Dr. Oh, here’s a question we got in. you’ve got to decipher this one for us. We have some really smart people out there, like PhDs. Is a germ line ASXL1 mutation a high risk or detrimental factor in the same way as a somatic mutation? So what’s germ line, what’s somatic, and is this germline ASLX1 mutation bad news, basically?

Dr. Stephen Oh: That’s a great question, and I think it also connects to a broader question. But to first answer you, talking about our acquired mutations which is the same thing as somatics; somatic means acquired.

If you’re talking about a germline mutation, in this case ASX01, it’s not the same thing as an acquired or somatic ASX01 mutation, which is what we’re generally referring to when we talk about that gene and its affect on prognosis. That also connects to the more broader point which is that the devil’s in the details.

Whether it’s ASX01 or another gene, the exact mutation may matter a lot in terms of what the significance you attribute to that. In many of the labs that do this type of testing, they will have a column for each mutation where they’ll make a call as to what they think it’s significance is, and they’ll say yes, pathogenic or it will say no pathogenic, or it will say uncertain. Part of that interpretation depends on whether it’s the germline or somatic AKA acquired mutation.

Oftentimes they can’t say for sure because the only way to determine that conclusively is to test tissue that’s not from the MPN. So, sometimes it’s uncertain as to even whether it is germline or somatic/acquired. So again, just to be clear on this particular question; if it’s thought to be a germline ASX01 mutation, it’s unlikely to be relevant or have a prognostic impact on that particular patient.

Andrew Schorr: So Dr. Moliterno, the other question you must get from people is do I have to worry about a family member? Because when they start talking about genes, you’re talking about what your hair color is, or hairline as I was joking with Stephen, or whatever characteristics herein are hereditary.

But then we’d say gee, is there a hereditary factor to an MPN?

Dr. Alison Moliterno: That is a very important question, and long before the JAK2 discovery, we realized that about 10 percent of individuals with an MPN will have a first or second degree relative with either an MPN or another cancer. So there does seem to be heritable factors at play here. Some of the interesting – and again, it’s not because you inherited – in your individual case you inherited the JAK2 mutation from the germline directly from Mom, but you inherited a risk of acquiring it.

We’re trying to understand that and again, what does it relate to; does it relate to germline variation in genes that allow this to occur, that allow you to get mutations in blood stem cells or in other tissues?

So yes, we are still working on that. It does seem to be a component of that. And that’s not unlike CLL, chronic lymphocytic leukemia also has sort of a familial –

Andrew Schorr: And I have that, too. I’ve got them both. I understand. So I think about that all the time. Marsha, you have children, don’t you?

Marsha: Yes, I have two children. But I think even more importantly, I have a cousin who has CML and another cousin who had stem cell transplant for AML. So I think that’s interesting.

Andrew Schorr: This is all in the hematology world, so Dr. Moliterno, do we have, Marcia or me, with two blood cancers? And I have three kids; what about this and is there a testing they should have, or how do we go forward?

Marsha: We don’t have – I would to recommend that they need a JAK2 test or specific MPN testing. If they have normal blood counts and they’re well, they don’t need to be evaluated for disease at the moment. The question is are there family genes that need to be elucidated, and if you have a lot of cancer in the family, so for instance families that have a lot of breast cancer, we often will send them for genetic counseling to understand what their particular risk is. And in breast cancer and some other cancers, we do understand some genes to test that can give us that information; familial genes. So far in the MPN, we don’t really have the knowledge of which genes are at play. 

Andrew Schorr: Dr. Oh, any comment on that because I’m sure you get the same questions. People say oh, my God, should I worry about family members?

Dr. Stephen Oh: Absolutely. It comes up pretty routinely and just to echo Dr. Moliterno, I generally do not recommend any special screening for family members, of those who have an MPN. I would also point out that even if there is, certainly it’s established that there is a slight increased risk for family members of patients with an MPN. Even if the risk was, let’s say, four fold higher for a first degree relative, the overall risk of developing MPN is so low that that overall risk for a family member is so unlikely that they’re going to develop an MPN.

Andrew Schorr:  Really? That gives some comfort; maybe you too, Marsha.

Marsha: Certainly.

Andrew Schorr: We’ve covered a lot of ground over the last hour, and I think on a very important topic now as mirroring the progress related to some treatments either approved or developing is, understanding our slice of an MPN, and the working with you on monitoring that and how does that relate to care. We have two noted experts with us who are helping propel this forward. So we’re your partners in helping that. Dr. Stephen Oh from Washington University and the Siteman Cancer Center, thanks for being with us once again and giving us of your time; I really appreciate it.

Dr. Stephen Oh: My pleasure.

Andrew Schorr: Okay, and Dr. Alison Moliterno, being back with us again from Johns Hopkins in Baltimore; thank you. Thanks for both of you; your very clear explanations, and Marsha Krone, we learned a lot, didn’t we Marsha?

Marsha: We sure did.

Andrew Schorr: Okay. Marsha’s my partner here; she’s done it twice and we’ll have you back sometime, Marsha.

Also, we should tell you Marsha is a very active preschool teacher so she has these little rug rats running around all the time, and thank God you have the energy to do that and I’m really glad you do, Marsha.

Marsha: Me, too.

Andrew Schorr: All the best to you. Well, this has been a wonderful program. We want to thank the Patient Empowerment Network for leading the way in this series, and Incyte Corporation for its support of this educational activity, and Patient Power our wonderful team Alan and Jamie who make it happen behind the scenes. We’ll be having more throughout the y ear. We welcome your questions; always send them to

And all of us moving forward living with an MPN, we’re going to live well and we have wonderful physician partners to help us do that as they understand the genetics and all those people working with them to develop therapies to help us live a long and strong life. Thanks for being with us in Carlsbad, California near San Diego.

I’m Andrew Schorr. Remember, knowledge can be the best medicine of all.


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