The detection of minimal residual disease (MRD) has become part of the state-of-the-art diagnostics to guide treatment both in pediatric and adult acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). This applies to the treatment of de novo and recurrent ALL. In high-risk ALL, MRD detection is considered an important tool to adjust therapy before and after hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. Precise quantification and quality control is instrumental to avoid false treatment assignment. A new methodological approach to analyzing MRD has become available and is based on next-generation sequencing. In principle, this technique will be able to detect a large number of leukemic subclones at a much higher speed than before. Carefully designed prospective studies need to demonstrate concordance or even superiority compared with those techniques in use right now: detection of aberrant expression of leukemia-specific antigens by flow cytometry of blood or bone marrow, or detection of specific rearrangements of the T-cell receptor or immunoglobulin genes by real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction using DNA of leukemic cells. In some cases with known fusion genes, such as BCR/ABL, reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction has been used as additional method to identify leukemic cells by analyzing RNA in patient samples. MRD detection may be used to modulate treatment intensity once it has been demonstrated at well-defined informative checkpoints that certain levels of MRD can reliably predict the risk of relapse. In addition, MRD is used as end point to determine the activity of a given agent or treatment protocol. If activity translates into antileukemic efficacy, MRD may be considered a surrogate clinical end point.
© 2014 by The American Society of Hematology. All rights reserved.