MicroRNA as an early biomarker of leukemia

A preclinical study led by an OHSU Knight Cancer Institute physician may point the way to more effective tests for recurrence of acute myeloid leukemia.

Peter Kurre, M.D.

Nearly half of patients diagnosed with AML will eventually experience a relapse, even with the best available treatment. And those patients must undergo bone marrow biopsies to detect relapses, says Peter Kurre, M.D., who specializes in pediatric hematology/oncology and blood disorders. Bone marrow biopsies are uncomfortable for the patient and involve substantial hospital resources. And Kurre says they are often performed in follow-up on non-specific blood count abnormalities that herald relapse, and prove to be a late indicator of whether leukemia has returned.

Kurre and colleagues sought to find out whether a blood test using a microRNA biomarker might address all three concerns. The study, published in Nature Publishing Group’s open-access journal Scientific Reports, examined the efficacy of using exosomes in blood to reveal the presence of the disease before leukemia blast cells begin to circulate — and without the need to perform a marrow biopsy. Exosomes are small, membrane-enclosed extracellular vesicles secreted by AML blasts and they are readily isolated from plasma and serum. The researchers showed that exosomes contain microRNAs with a unique leukemia signature.

Kurre and his team conducted the study on mice and worked with their OHSU biostatistics collaborator, Jodi Lapidus, Ph.D., to develop a microRNA score capable of distinguishing relapsing AML from normal blood cells. Their study suggests that this biomarker strategy can be developed into a clinical tool and a follow on project is currently underway with funding by the OCTRI Biomedical Innovation Program.

“Next-generation biomarkers will enable real-time determination of residual leukemia cells and aid in tailoring treatment for each patient,” Kurre says.

The research accords with the broader Knight Cancer mission to detect cancer at its earliest stages, he adds. “It squarely fits the vision of what the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute wants to do.”

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Serum Exosome MicroRNA as a Minimally-Invasive Early Biomarker of AML by Noah I. Hornick, Jianya Huan, Ben Doron, Natalya A. Goloviznina, Jodi Lapidus, Bill H. Chang and Peter Kurre, Scientific Reports (2015)