90% Leukemia Cure Rate Said Possible As International Meeting Of Research Leaders Convenes

December 03, 1997

MEMPHIS, Tenn., December 3, 1997 - A pediatric leukemia cure rate of 90 percent should be possible early next century according to researchers at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital if success comes from research initiatives discussed at a meeting beginning today at St. Jude of 30 of the world's top specialists associated with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) treatment and research.

For a child to qualify as cured, he or she must have been event-free with no reoccurrence for at least five years. When St. Jude launched its first leukemia treatment research protocol 35 years ago, the cure rate was only 9 percent. A cure rate of 75% is the highest reported to date by St. Jude.

"We expect to hear of improvements in cure rates from leukemia research leaders meeting for the first time with their international peers," said William Evans, Pharm.D, St. Jude's deputy director and co-convenor of the World ALL Conference with Ching-Hon Pui, MD, interim chair of the St. Jude Department of Hematology-Oncology.

Evans explained that St. Jude had invited the leaders of every major leukemia study in the world to meet at St. Jude as part of its preparation for the start of St. Jude's fourteenth leukemia research protocol. "They all came," said Evans who expects information shared at the meeting to shorten the time needed to achieve improved cure rates while also limiting the side-effects of treatment.

New advances in leukemia treatment will likely include an elimination of radiation therapy made possible by more effective chemotherapy, improved techniques for detecting low levels of leukemia cells lingering in the body after initial treatment, and the use of genetic information to determine more precise treatment programs thereby avoiding unnecessary treatment and related side effects.

For example, in an article appearing in the December issue of Blood, investigators at St. Jude report that rearrangement of the ETV6 (also named TEL) gene on the short arm of chromosome 12 (12p) is associated with favorable treatment outcomes in the range of an 89 percent 5-year event-free cure rate. "Knowing that the ETV6/TEL gene of a child with leukemia has been rearranged permits us to avoid the risks and side-effects associated with unnecessary radiation therapy or chemotherapy," said Jeffrey E. Rubnitz, MD, Ph.D. of the St. Jude Department of Hematology-Oncology and co-author of the study.

"Our goal is to provide a cure to children with leukemia that opens the door to a full and happy life where the consequences of both the disease and the treatment are history," said Evans.

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, in Memphis, Tennessee, was founded by the late entertainer Danny Thomas. The hospital is an internationally recognized biomedical research center dedicated to finding cures for catastrophic diseases of childhood. The hospital's work is primarily supported through funds raised by the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities (ALSAC). All St. Jude patients are treated regardless of their ability to pay. ALSAC covers all costs of treatment beyond those reimbursed by third party insurers, and total costs for families who have no insurance.

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital

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