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New Test Detects Return of Blood Cancer a Year Earlier

By LabMedica International staff writers
Posted on 19 Jun 2024
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Image: The new test’s measurement is a thousand times more sensitive than current standard test (Photo courtesy of 123RF)
Image: The new test’s measurement is a thousand times more sensitive than current standard test (Photo courtesy of 123RF)

Multiple myeloma, also known as Kahler's disease, is a type of blood cancer originating in the bone marrow characterized by the uncontrolled proliferation of plasma cells, a specific type of white blood cell. Remarkably, half of the patients initially respond to treatment to a degree where the disease becomes undetectable in their blood, but unfortunately, the disease almost invariably returns. Currently, to monitor for the return of the disease, the standard practice involves a bone marrow biopsy, an invasive procedure that is not feasible to perform frequently. This method's reliability can also vary since the disease may not be uniformly distributed across the bone marrow. Alternatively, a less sensitive blood test is available, but it only detects the disease's return when the cancer cell count is considerably elevated. Now, researchers have developed a new blood test that can detect the return of multiple myeloma a full year earlier than the current standard blood test.

This advanced blood test, developed by scientists at Radboud University Medical Center (Nijmegen, the Netherlands) in collaboration with Erasmus MC (Rotterdam, Netherlands), is a thousand times more sensitive than the currently used blood test. It works by measuring antibodies produced by plasma cells, which are crucial to immune defense. Normally, a variety of plasma cells produce antibodies to combat different pathogens, but in multiple myeloma, one plasma cell type multiplies excessively, producing numerous identical plasma cells and antibodies, which the new test targets. Initially, customizing the test for individual patients required 125 days, but researchers have now refined the process to accommodate any patient and simultaneously test 25 patients, reducing the development time to just five days.

Moreover, the team has developed new software that enhances the measurement process, enabling even faster detection of tumor cell signals. In a trial involving forty patients, this test proved capable of detecting increases in cancer cells a year earlier than the standard blood test. The procedure needs less than a drop of blood, making it minimally invasive. Researchers are also exploring the possibility of patients performing the blood collection at home via a simple finger prick, which would bypass the need for hospital visits for blood draws, further innovating patient care in this field.

“Patients whose disease is no longer measurable after treatment often live in uncertainty for years”, said Hans Jacobs, Medical Immunologist. “With the new blood test, you can monitor much better, providing clarity. When the current blood test shows the cancer's return, the number of cancer cells is already high, and a different therapy is initiated. With the new test, we see the increase in cancer cells much earlier. This may allow for quicker and better adaptation of therapy to the patient’s situation, but we don’t know that yet. We will investigate this.”

Related Links:
Radboud University Medical Center 
Erasmus MC 

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