Children with Philadelphia-chromosome-positive (Ph+) acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) represent a subgroup at very high risk for treatment failure, despite intensive chemotherapy. However, recent retrospective studies showed that Ph+ childhood ALL is a heterogeneous disease with regard to treatment response. We have prospectively monitored, by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) during follow-up, the presence of the BCR/ABL fusion transcript in Ph+ ALL children diagnosed in the Italian multicentre Associazione Italiana Ematologia Oncologia Pediatrica ALL-AIEOP-95 therapy protocol. To our knowledge, this is the first report on the evaluation of minimal residual disease (MRD) in childhood Ph+ ALL prospectively enrolled in an intensive, Berlin-Frankfurt-Munster (BFM)-type treatment protocol. Twenty-seven of 36 (75.0%) Ph+ patients consecutively enrolled into the high-risk group of the AIEOP-ALL protocol between May 1995 and October 1999 were successfully analysed. Twenty were good responders to the pre-phase of prednisone/intrathecal methotrexate treatment (PGR) and seven were poor responders (PPR). Within the PPR group, the RT-PCR monitoring constantly showed positivity for the BCR/ABL fusion transcript and all the patients died of disease progression. In contrast, highly sensitive qualitative RT-PCR monitoring revealed heterogeneity within the PGR group of Ph+ childhood ALL patients. Three different subgroups could be defined, according to the clearance of Ph+ cells within the first 5 months of treatment. This provides useful information on the capability of chemotherapy to reduce the leukaemic clone, with prognostic implications.
- Childhood ALL
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