A few months after the discovery of a novel mechanism by which viruses cause leukemia (Nature Communications, 23rd May 2017), the research team from the Institute Jules Bordet (University of Brussels) and the GIGA (University of Liège) publishes a new pilot study on September 5th in the Leukemia journal. This study describes an optimized molecular method for the treatment follow-up of patients with a particular aggressive type of leukemia (Human T-cell leukemia virus-1, HTLV-1 induced leukemia), as new tool to help clinicians in their treatment choices!

Each case of leukemia is characterized by a very precise position of the virus in the blood cells genome, different for each patient. The method allows to detect this “viral identity card” in a quantitative way: its decrease being a reflection of a good response to the treatment, its increase signing a recrudescence of the leukemia and thus the relapse for the patient.

Thanks to improvements in the initial technique, the researchers have obtained a molecular tool that overcomes previous limitations in terms of sensitivity, cost and hands-on time, facilitating implementation in the clinic. This pilot study shows that, for the first time, this method allows to better evaluate the response to the treatment, to predict an early relapse and consequently to help clinicians in their therapeutic decisions. Until now, these patients, for whom the prognosis was unfortunately very unfavorable, did not benefit from any reliable method to evaluate the therapeutic response. This new method is able to detect minimal residual disease, estimate graft-versus-ATL effect after allogeneic stem cell transplantation and evaluate clinical trials that remain critical to improving outcomes.

The study, carried out in collaboration with scientists of the Necker University Hospital in Paris, is a nice example of fundamental research that leads to a clinical application. Joint efforts of the HTLV-1 community of clinicians will now be needed to define optimal conditions for clinical utilization and standardized care to the benefit of the patient.

Reference of the study

Maria Artesi, Ambroise Marçais, Keith Durkin, Nicolas Rosewick, Vincent Hahaut, Philippe Suarez, Amélie Trinquand, Ludovic Lhermitte, Véronique Avettand Fenoel, Michel Georges, Olivier Hermine & Anne Van den Broeke

Monitoring molecular response in Adult T-cell Leukemia/Lymphoma by high throughput sequencing analysis of HTLV-1 clonality, Leukemia, 2017, doi:10.1038/leu.2017.260