Aussie scientists lead the way in improving Leukaemia survival rates

A ten-year clinical trial has seen survival rates in children with the most common form of childhood cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), double to 70%.

The study gives new hope to children with a high-risk of relapse, based on the results of a novel test developed by scientists at the Children’s Cancer Institute Australia (CCIA) – a recipient of over $3.2 million in ACRF funding.

The test works by detecting Minimal Residual Disease (MRD) in the bone marrow of children with ALL. It identifies patients who (despite appearances) are not responding to treatment as well as others, allowing clinicians to reassess their treatment options and maximise the patient’s chance of a full recovery.

“The MRD test can detect one leukaemia cell among 100,000 healthy cells in the bone marrow, and this allows clinicians to tailor a child’s treatment,” said Professor Glenn Marshall, Head of Translational Research at CCIA (and Director of the Kids Cancer Centre, Sydney Children’s Hospital Randwick).

“When a child is classified as high-risk through the MRD test, their therapy is intensified in order to improve the chance of survival.”

The study enrolled more than 650 Australian children, and also ran across the Netherlands and New Zealand. It represents a major step towards personalised cancer care, showing that a new intensive chemotherapy protocol, and in many cases, allogeneic bone marrow transplants can provide new hope to high-risk ALL patients who are identified at the early stages of treatment.

Professor Murray Norris, Deputy Director of CCIA, led the research team that pioneered the MRD test and says its success is due largely to the close partnership between CCIA and The Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network.

“MRD testing is now considered part of the Standard of Care, and our test results are routinely used to guide treatment decisions in clinics across the country,” says Professor Norris.

The results of the Study were published in the prestigious journal, Leukaemia.

Please click here to visit the CCIA press release, for more information.