Molecular test proves to be effective in measuring remission and relapse after cancer treatment

An international consortium of researchers from Seattle, London and Australia have reported the first use of a sensitive molecular test to measure the precise extent of remission or the likelihood of relapse in cancer patients being treated on Gleevec or a combination therapy consisting of interferon and cytarabine. The test is hundreds of thousands of times more sensitive than any other test making it a way to detect relapse earlier than ever before. Currently used to monitor the disease status of patients with chronic myelogenous leukemia after treatment with a bone-marrow or stem-cell transplant, the molecular test enables physicians to respond quickly if there are signs of relapse with treatment decisions that has ultimately saved lives.

In a study published in the Oct. 9 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, Drs. Tim Hughes at the Institute of Medical and Veterinary Science in Adelaide, Australia, Jerry Radich at Fred Hutchinson and Jaspal Kaeda at Hammersmith in London used molecular analysis to detect residual cancer cells in leukemia patients enrolled in a clinical trial to compare two drug regimens. The researchers found their method which is based on a technique called polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, to be far more stringent at picking up traces of cancer that could lead to relapse than the standard test known as cytogenetic analysis, in which chromosomes are examined under a microscope.

The study was part of a large international clinical trial to compare the response of patients with chronic myeloid leukemia to Gleevec, a recently approved drug manufactured by Novartis, with a combination therapy consisting of interferon and cytarabine.

According to Radich, the study, which is the first to use the technique to assess the extent of response to drug therapy, opens the door to a new conceptual approach for the design of future clinical trials.

"Our results tell us that PCR can be used to stratify patients accor

Contact: Susan Edmonds
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

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