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Biomarker predicts medulloblastoma relapse

Memphis, Tennessee, October 21, 2021

Fours researchers walking down a corridor outside and talking to each other.

From left: Kyle Smith, PhD, Developmental Neurobiology; Amar Gajjar, MD, Pediatric Medicine chair; Paul Northcott, PhD, Developmental Neurobiology; and Giles Robinson, MD, Oncology, research was recently published in Cancer Cell. (photo follows CDC guidelines at the time)

Cancer therapy for children often has a fixed number of treatments. This number is based on years of study and experience. However, doctors still do not know the perfect length of time for therapy for every patient. In some patients the cancer returns.

These relapses are sparked by measurable residual disease (MRD). These are the tumor cells that persist during or after therapy but at such low levels they cannot be detected using imaging scans.

St. Jude scientists looked for the tumor cells in cerebrospinal fluid. The samples came from patients in the SJMB03 clinical trial with the brain tumor medulloblastoma. The samples were gathered during  patient care.

The scientists developed a test to look for signals that identify the presence of cell-free DNA from medulloblastoma.

“Through careful scientific testing, we found a way to reliably identify the medulloblastoma-derived cell-free DNA in the cerebrospinal fluid,” said Paul Northcott, PhD, Developmental Neurobiology.

They showed it is possible to find MRD from cerebrospinal fluid samples, indicating a patient was at high risk of relapse.

“With this test, we now know that if there is medulloblastoma cell-free DNA in the cerebrospinal fluid late in therapy or after therapy, then that patient is likely to relapse,” said Giles Robinson, MD, Oncology. “That gives us something we can act on, an opportunity to truly eradicate the disease before it has had a chance to relapse or re-emerge.”

Cancer Cell published this work.

Read the News Release

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