Blood cancer breakthrough offers clues for tailored patient treatment

Patients with blood cancer could be offered a tailored course of treatment in the future, after Leicester academics successfully trialled the use of liquid biopsies to help predict how successfully patients would respond to treatment.

In research published in Blood Advances, Dr Matthew Ahearne, a haematologist at the University of Leicester, used liquid biopsies, which use the blood to obtain information about a cancer located elsewhere, to successfully detect specific mutations of T-cell lymphoma DNA in patients’ blood. As part of their research, Dr Ahearne’s team also discovered two previously unseen mutations.

By identifying a specific mutation, the team were able to predict how some patients would respond to treatment - potentially paving the way for a personalised treatment approach for patients and extending their life.

Dr Matthew Ahearne said:

“In the UK, around 500 people are diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma a year. It is one of the most difficult cancers to treat, with only half of patients surviving beyond two years.

“In this study we successfully detected T-cell lymphoma DNA in the blood. This is important because identifying specific mutations may help to accurately establish exactly what type of T-cell lymphoma a person has, which can decide how best to treat someone.

“We also, for the first time, used sequential blood samples to track these mutations in patients undergoing chemotherapy. Our results suggest that this information can predict how some patients will respond to treatment. If this finding is confirmed in larger studies, we may need to alter our treatment approach for patients that do not clear lymphoma mutations from the blood after chemotherapy, with the hope that by switching early to other treatments more patients with T-cell lymphoma will ultimately be cured.”

Dr Aherne’s research builds upon the work of Professor Jacqui Shaw at the University of Leicester, who used liquid biopsies to help track how cancers evolve and spread, with a focus on breast cancer.

The use of blood samples provides additional benefit for patients, by offering an alternative to invasive tissue biopsies, which are often unpleasant procedures and frequently provide limited samples for mutation testing.

The research has a strong Leicester focus, with 25 local patients donating blood to the study. In addition to generous donations from families, the research was supported by two local charities: HOPE Against Cancer and the Leicester Haematology Research Fund.

The article Multiple mutations at exon 2 of RHOA detected in plasma from patients with peripheral T-cell lymphoma was published in Blood Advances.