‘Game-changing’ test to predict how leukemia patients will respond to chemotherapy

Written by Mike Gregg, Future Science Group

A novel test, termed STELA, which can accurately predict how leukemia patients will respond to standard treatment has been developed by researchers at Cardiff University (UK).

Prior to the ‘STELA’ test doctors had very few ways to establish how quickly the patients form of CLL was developing. The new test is both more accurate than previous methods, and faster as results are ready in a day.

“People with CLL can experience great anxiety and uncertainty about how their cancer will progress. This test could give people the peace of mind that they will receive the most effective treatment possible if it does. It may even allow some people to be told that their cancer is unlikely to progress,” commented Alasdair Rankin (Bloodwise, UK).

The researchers used the ‘STELA’ test to analyse samples from 260 patients to establish how patients would react to intensive chemotherapy combined with immunotherapy. They discovered that patients with short telomeres relapsed sooner after treatment than patients with long telomeres – on average 3.7 years after treatment compared to 5.5 years.

“Our study shows that some patients have a very long duration of response to chemoimmunotherapy and may even be cured. These patients all have long telomeres.  In contrast, patients with short telomeres invariably showed an inferior response and should be considered for alternative treatments,” concluded Chris Pepper, who is now based at the University of Sussex (UK).

The researchers say that the test could be a ‘game changer’ for the treatment of CLL. It may also play an important future role in how other cancers including myeloma and breast cancer are treated.

Sources: K Norris, P Hillmen, A Rawstron et al. Telomere length predicts for outcome to FCR chemotherapy in CLL. Nature. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41375-019-0389-9 (2019)(Epub ahead of print); https://bloodwise.org.uk/community/game-changing-test-could-predict-response-leukaemia-treatment