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Prolonging remission using early relapse warning system 

Dr Sun Loo
Dr Sun Loo

New research to shed light on whether treatment before frank disease relapse can keep blood cancer at bay

Acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), a type of blood cancer, is difficult to treat and has poor outcomes. While remission can be achieved with chemotherapy, many patients ultimately relapse.

AML remission has been historically defined as less than 5% leukaemic cells in the bone marrow when assessed under a microscope, along with recovery of peripheral blood counts.

An increased understanding of AML has led to the detection of very small numbers of leukaemic cells when a patient is in remission. These small numbers of leukaemic cells that remain after treatment are called measurable residual disease (MRD) and has been thought to be the culprit for AML relapse. Better technologies can now detect MRD, which precedes frank relapse by one to five months, at much lower levels down to a single leukaemia cell in 100,000-1,000,000 normal cells.

Dr Sun Loo’s research project aims to report on a world-first clinical trial, the INTERCEPT study, which opened in August 2022, and addresses the question of whether MRD-directed intervention in AML leads to improved outcomes.

The INTERCEPT platform study employs a tailor-made, precision medicine approach to treating patients with MRD failure.

Dr Loo will be involved in recommending the allocation of MRD-directed therapies based on a patient’s biomarker responsible for MRD relapse and assessing new technologies to assess MRD. Her research is also expected to contribute to understanding the differences between leukaemia cells when detected at the MRD stage, compared to when the disease is advanced.

Commenting on her PhD project, called Treatment of acute myeloid leukaemia at the timepoint when small amounts of leukaemia cells are detected to prevent advanced disease, Dr Loo said: “Ultimately, the goal is to prolong remission with the hope of improving long-term outcomes.”

The PhD scholarship is co-funded by the Leukaemia Foundation and the Haematology Society of Australia and New Zealand (HSANZ).

About Sun Loo

Dr Sun Loo is a consultant haematologist. She commenced her PhD at Peter MacCallum-Melbourne University in early-2022, and also works at The Northern Hospital.

Dr Loo grew up in Malaysia and obtained her medical degree from the University of Western Australia. She was exposed to many haematology rotations during her training at the Royal Perth and Fiona Stanley hospitals in Perth before moving to Melbourne. She then completed her clinical haematology and laboratory haematology advanced training at Austin Health.

As Leukaemia Fellow at the Alfred Hospital under the supervision of Professor Andrew Wei in 2020, she developed her passion for research and treatment of patients with AML.

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