Myeloproliferative disorders

Myeloproliferative disorders

JAK2, a signalling molecule
Myeloproliferative disorders are serious conditions in which excessive numbers of blood cells are produced. This can interfere with the normal functions of blood. 
Myeloproliferative disorders are caused by over-active signalling in blood-producing cells. Our research is focused on understanding this process to develop new treatments for people with these diseases.

Above: The structure of SOCS1 (red) bound to a JAK protein (beige) could inform the development of new drugs to treat cancer.

Our research into myeloproliferative disorders

Our researchers aim to improve how myeloproliferative disorders are treated by:

  • Revealing how normal blood cell production is controlled, and the defects that lead to myeloproliferative disorders.

  • Understanding the signalling proteins that contribute to myeloproliferative disorders, aiding the development of new treatments.

What are myeloproliferative disorders?

Myeloproliferative disorders – sometimes called myeloproliferative neoplasms – are cancer-like diseases in which too many blood cells are produced in the bone marrow. This hinders the normal production of blood cells. The excess blood cells can also disrupt the function of the blood.

There are many types of myeloproliferative disorder, involving different cell types. Common types are:



Essential thrombocythaemia

Too many platelets produced, which can lead to excessive blood clotting.

Polycythemia vera

Too many red blood cells, which can thicken the blood.

Primary myelofibrosis

Too much fibrous tissue produced in the bone marrow, preventing normal blood production.

Myeloproliferative disorders differ from leukaemia in the major type of cell being produced. In myeloproliferative disorders, the bone marrow produces excessive numbers of mature blood cells that function normally, but are present in greater-than-normal numbers. In leukaemia, the cells tend to be immature. Sometimes myeloproliferative disorders can progress to acute leukaemia.

What causes myeloproliferative disorders?

Specific genetic changes in blood cells have been pinpointed as the cause of many myeloproliferative disorders. These genetic changes cause over-active signalling in bone marrow cells, resulting in uncontrolled production of blood cells.

A common genetic defect frequently associated with myeloproliferative disorders is:

  • JAK2V617F, an altered version of the gene for the JAK2 signalling protein. This is often found in essential thrombocythaemia, polycythemia vera and primary myelofibrosis.

How are myeloproliferative disorders treated?

Myeloproliferative disorders are severe and potentially fatal. These diseases can progress slowly for many years. However, some can progress to acute leukaemia, a more aggressive disease.

Most myeloproliferative disorders cannot be cured. Treatments can relieve the symptoms and slow the disease’s progress.

Targeted therapies are showing promise for treating myeloproliferative disorders. Specific inhibitors of JAK2 are effective in treating some people with myeloproliferative disorders.

The Leukaemia Foundation provides advice and support for people with myeloproliferative disorders.

WEHI researchers are not able to provide specific medical advice specific to individuals. If you have cancer and wish to find out more information about clinical trials, please visit the Australian Cancer Trials or the Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry, or consult your medical specialist.


Professor Warren Alexander

Professor Warren Alexander photographed at the Institute
Laboratory Head; Joint Leader, Cancer Research and Treatments Theme

Dr Ashley Ng

Ashley Ng
Clinical Translational Research Fellow
Super Content: 
Diagram of a megakaryocyte releasing platelets

Our researchers have discovered how an essential blood-making hormone stimulates platelet production

Three researchers looking at a microscope in the lab

Institute researchers have revealed how SOCS1 proteins 'switch off' cell signalling, which could guide drug development for cancers and myeloproliferative diseases.

Dr Jeff Babon and Professor Nick Nicola in the lab

Cell signalling discovery provides new hope for blood disorders

Dr Jeff Babon in the lab

Structural biologist Dr Jeff Babon was the 2012 Burnet Prize recipient.