MDS: Our Approach and Expertise

Each year, the MDS Program at Columbia University Medical Center/NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital cares for several hundred patients with this rare and challenging disease. Our institution has been designated a national Center of Excellence by the Myelodysplastic Syndromes Foundation and a national leader in MDS clinical trials and investigational therapies.  For decades, our physicians have been recognized as the world’s leading experts on this condition. 

Our MDS Program is known for providing:

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

We also provide a wide range of patient support services:

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

One of the World’s Largest Tissue Banks

The Columbia MDS Program has made new inroads in the treatment of this complex illness.  Our Director, Dr. Azra Raza, has been treating MDS patients for thirty years, assembling the largest longitudinal database in the world with over 50,000 tissue samples from more than 5,000 MDS patients. We are now mining this data to learn in which individuals MDS is more likely to progress or more likely to go into remission.

Advances in Genetic Testing

Genetic sequencing allows us to pinpoint where a handful of “parent” stem cells go off track, and to consequently identify several lines of rogue or abnormal cells that lead to MDS. We can now prescribe therapies that will target some of these specific abnormalities.  Columbia researchers have identified five genetic mutations that are associated with poor rates of survival. Leading genomics labs in the country are now offering this test commercially and it is paid for by Medicare and most insurance companies. 

Research into the Origins of MDS

Our researchers have been among the first to shed light on the complex biology of this disease. In the laboratory, Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee has been studying the micro-environment in which MDS cells begin to grow and Dr. Stavroula Kousteni identified a mutation in the microenvironment cells of mice that leads to MDS and AML. More than a third of MDS patients from our Tissue Bank were found to have the same abnormalities with increase in certain proteins that can be targeted for treatment. This knowledge of how MDS originates enriches our clinical practice, helping us to improve our patient’s outcomes and to enhance the quality of their lives.