Abstract

Many studies have shown the presence of minimal residual disease (MRD) following therapy for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) to be an important prognostic marker. We have also shown a significant relationship between survival outcomes in patients enrolled in the previous ALL 911 study and molecular MRD levels 5 weeks (time point 1, TP1) and 12 weeks (TP2) following the initiation of chemotherapy (

Leukaemia and Lymphoma
2002
;
43
:
1001
). The aim of this study was to evaluate if polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based MRD assay is sufficiently dependable for tailoring therapy, and if augmented therapy can reduce MRD levels to those associated with a favourable outcome. The subjects were under 18 years of age, and had newly diagnosed precursor B or T-cell ALL. Patients below one year old and those with t(9;22) were excluded. Written informed consent was obtained from patients or their legal guardians. The ALL 941-based protocol (45thASH, San Diego, 2003) utilized PCR-based MRD assay using immunoglobulin & T-cell receptor gene rearrangements. MRD was detected by nested PCR, with screening of rearrangements using multiplex PCR primers as described previously (
Leukaemia and Lymphoma
2002
;
43
:
1001
). Patients were initially stratified into 3 risk groups (in ascending order: SR, HR, and HHR) according to leukocyte count and age at time of diagnosis. The MRD+/+ patients with levels ≥ 10−3 at both TP1 and TP2 received augmented therapy 14 weeks after initiation, and the remainder continued to receive the initial risk-adapted protocols. A total of 311 patients with a median age of 5.3 years (range 1.0–16.8) were eligible for this study. There were 4 (1.3%) non-responders and no deaths in induction. Of the 307 patients stratified, 169 (55%) were SR, 107 (35%) were HR, and 31 (10%) were HHR. The 2nd stratification by MRD level at TP2 was possible for 72.3% (222/307; insufficient DNA=28; missing time-points=25; no marker=32). Out of the 222 patients stratified, 125 (56.3%) were MRD−/−, 58 (26.1%) were MRD+/−, and 38 (17.4%) were MRD+/+. At the point of analysis, the median follow-up time was 63 months (range 33–89). The overall 5-year event–free survival (EFS) rate of the 307 patients was 80.1% (SE 2.5), higher than the EFS of the ALL941 study, which was 76.2% (SE 2.1) (p=0.167). The 5-year EFS rates according to the 1st stratification were 85.5% (SE 4) for SR, 76.1% (SE 4.5) for HR, and 64.6% (SE 9.2) for HHR, while the equivalent rates for the 2nd stratification were 87.0% (SE 3.1) for MRD−/−, 75.5% (SE 7.7) for MRD+/−, and 75.3% (SE 6.4) for MRD+/+. From the 95 patients whose MRD levels were measured at 5 consecutive points from TP1 to TP5 (5, 12, 18, 24, and 30 weeks after the start of therapy), 21 subjects with MRD+/+ received an augmented chemotherapy, and MRD levels became undetectable in 9 patients at TP3, 5 patients at TP4, and 4 patients at TP5. The corresponding cumulative 5-year relapse rates of those patients were 11%, 50%, and 50%, respectively. Thus, negative MRD status at TP3, but not at TP4 or TP5, seems to be associated with a favourable outcome. Our results confirm the strong performance of MRD-based treatment interaction in a multi-institutional study without adversely affecting the outcome in childhood ALL. Moreover, present findings suggest that an augmented therapy could reduce MRD to levels associated with a favourable outcome. To improve the applicability and accuracy of MRD assay, new MRD-PCR targets and RQ-PCR-based MRD detection are needed in subsequent studies.

[Acknowledgment: This study was partly supported by grants from the Children’s Cancer Association of Japan (CCAJ)].

Disclosures: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

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