New, Faster Test Speeds Up Treatment for Blood Cancers


Robert Soiffer, MD,
Robert Soiffer, MD, chief, Hematologic Malignancies at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center

Rapid Heme Panel, a new quick-turnaround genetic diagnostic test, at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center (DF/BWCC), offers some patients with aggressive blood cancers faster diagnoses, and treatments.

Instead of sending blood samples to different laboratories for tests that return results in two weeks or more, Rapid Heme Panel puts the results in doctors’ hands in about five business days. This shortcut can be critical for patients with fast-moving leukemia and other hematologic malignancies, say specialists at DF/BWCC.

The new test was developed by researchers at DF/BWCC and launched in August. It uses next-generation DNA sequencing to analyze the genetic profile of leukemias – including acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), and myeloproliferative disorders. The DF/BWCC team hopes to expand its use to other blood cancers soon.

Cancer is caused by the cumulative effect of multiple genetic alterations, such as mutations in the genetic code.  Knowing the specific combination of these alterations in a particular patient’s cancer can lead to more informed decisions on therapeutic options and a better outcome.

For example, DF/BWCC physicians used Rapid Heme Panel to analyze blood samples from an 18-year-old man who had been referred for treatment of relapsed acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Within three days, the test returned results that refined the diagnosis and revealed that the leukemia was driven by mutations in molecular signaling pathways known as NOTCH and JAK/STAT. After chemotherapy had failed to be effective, physicians enrolled the man in a clinical trial of a NOTCH inhibitor drug to provide precision therapy for his disease.

Rapid Heme Panel is one of the most comprehensive assessment tools available for blood cancers. Its DNA sequencing instruments search 95 genes that are commonly mutated in these diseases. Certain mutations can predict the cancer’s behavior and the patient’s prognosis. And in some cases, physicians can use Rapid Heme Panel results to choose particular drugs, place the patient on a clinical trial of an experimental agent, or guide the timing of a stem cell transplant.

“For many of our patients, it is critical to jump on their cancer quickly with an accurate diagnosis and thorough knowledge of the mutations that are driving their malignancy,” says Robert Soiffer, MD, chief, Hematologic Malignancies at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center. “Thanks to in-house testing with the Rapid Heme Panel, we can acquire the information we need to make treatment decisions faster than ever before.”