Simple Blood Test May Detect Return Of Acute Myeloid Leukemia

hand holding blood testBritish researchers say a simple blood test may be a cheap, easy and effective way to spot risk of recurrence of a common form of acute myeloid leukemia (AML).

This type of AML is characterized by a mutation in the NPM1 gene. A third of AML patients have this form of the deadly blood and bone marrow cancer.

Despite aggressive chemotherapy, a certain percentage of patients with this mutated gene will see their disease return. And many would benefit from a pre-emptive, lifesaving bone marrow transplant — sometimes called stem cell transplantation, the researchers noted.

But a transplant ultimately destroys not only the marrow’s cancerous cells but healthy tissue as well. So, doctors have long sought a reliable way of separating those in true need of a transplant from those who would likely fare well without one, the researchers said.

The problem: Accurately pinpointing the highest-risk patients has proven difficult, with doctors typically forced to rely on costly and time-consuming genetic testing of extracted tumor tissue.

Enter the so-called “Minimal Residual Disease” (MRD) test.

MRD testing is designed to help doctors screen for patients whose post-chemotherapy blood contains a telltale sign of the NPM1 gene mutation. Those who have that sign are at high risk for recurrence of the leukemia, and need a transplant, the researchers explained.

The test is now being used in a number of European countries, said study author Dr. David Grimwade. He is a professor of molecular haematology in the department of medical and molecular genetics with the Cancer Genetics Lab at King’s College London.

“We are using it to guide transplantation in the current U.K. national trial for younger adults with AML,” he said.