Research offers treatment clues for a high-risk adult leukemia

Memphis, Tennessee, November 21, 2016

Kathryn Roberts, PhD, and Charles Mullighan, MD, MBBS

First author Kathryn Roberts, Ph.D., pictured with corresponding author Charles Mullighan, M.D., MBBS, a member of the St. Jude Department of Pathology.

The most common type of childhood cancer strikes adults, too. The survival rate for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) exceeds 90 percent in children, but is only about 40 percent in adults.

A St. Jude–led international study provides one reason for the low survival rates for adults. Researchers showed that nearly a quarter of adult ALL cases have a high-risk subtype called Ph-like ALL.  The five-year survival rate for these patients was a dismal 24 percent.

In many cases, the cancer cells may be vulnerable to existing drugs called tyrosine kinase inhibitors. “The finding provides a compelling reason to identify patients with this high-risk subtype and move forward with clinical trials of these targeted therapies in combination with current chemotherapy,” said Charles Mullighan, MD, MBBS, of St. Jude Pathology.

The research appeared in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

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