Rapid Heme Panel speeds blood cancer treatment

December 22, 2014

For certain patients diagnosed with very aggressive blood cancers, time is of the essence. To jump-start the best available treatment for an individual, physicians need the results of genetic tests on blood or bone marrow samples, and delays can be fatal.

Robert Soiffer, MD

Robert Soiffer, MD, Chief of Hematologic Malignancies at DF/BWCC

Thanks to a new test called Rapid Heme Panel, developed at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center (DF/BWCC), the turnaround time for results has been cut from as long as two weeks to just five business days.

Searching for mutations in 95 genes, Rapid Heme Panel delivers a “genetic profile” of a patient’s disease that can confirm a diagnosis, predict how the individual will fare, and – in some cases – select a targeted drug matched to that specific mutation pattern.

“For many of our patients, it is critical to jump on their cancer quickly with an accurate diagnosis and thorough knowledge of the mutations that are driving their malignancy,” says Robert Soiffer, MD, chief of Hematologic Malignancies at DF/BWCC. “Thanks to in-house testing with the Rapid Heme Panel, we can acquire the information we need to make treatment decisions faster than ever before.”

The new test was developed by researchers at DF/BWCC and launched in August. The test uses next-generation DNA sequencing to analyze the genetic profile of leukemias, including acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), as well as myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) and myeloproliferative disorders. The team hopes to expand its use to other blood cancers soon. Previously, blood and bone marrow samples were sent to several different outside labs. Now, they are processed within DF/BWCC.

The 95 genes scanned by the Rapid Heme Panel sequencing instruments were selected because they are often found to be mutated in blood cancer cells’ DNA. Cancer is caused by the cumulative effect of multiple genetic alterations, such as mutations in the genetic code. Knowing the specific combination of these alterations in a particular patient's cancer can lead to more informed decisions on therapeutic options and a better outcome.

“This is the best personalized medicine application in hematological oncology,” said Richard Stone, MD, program director of the Adult Leukemia Program at DF/BWCC. “Already we have been able to put patients on clinical trials by knowing their mutational status earlier than ever before.”

For example, DF/BWCC physicians used Rapid Heme Panel to analyze blood samples from an 18-year-old man who had been referred for treatment of relapsed acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Within three days, the test returned results that refined the diagnosis and revealed that the leukemia was driven by mutations in molecular signaling pathways known as Notch and JAK/STAT. After chemotherapy had failed to be effective, physicians enrolled the man in a clinical trial of a NOTCH inhibitor drug to provide precision therapy for his disease.

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