Detection of cell-free DNA in acute lymphoblastic leukemia patients to potentially identify CNS disease and monitor response to therapy
About Jessica Blackburn
Jessica Blackburn is an Assistant Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Kentucky. Her research focuses on identifying how pediatric cancers develop and become resistant to chemotherapies. Her group uses a combination of zebrafish models, biochemical techniques, and patient samples to discover new drugs to treat leukemia and brain tumors. She has been awarded the NIH New Innovator Award and the NCI Merit Award to support this research.
Current methods to diagnose Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) patients with minimal residual disease (MRD) or leukemic infiltration into the central nervous system (CNS) rely on the presence of cells in patient samples for pathology, flow cytometry, or next-generation sequencing. However, blasts may be present in the patient but not detected in the sample, leading to inaccurate or delayed diagnosis. In this research, we have developed a rapid and inexpensive nanopore sequencing workflow to detect ALL associated cell-free DNA (cfDNA) in the patient biofluid clinical research samples. Analysis of cell-free DNA from blood allowed us to monitor how ALL clones responded to therapy, and detection of cfDNA in the cerebrospinal fluid identified patients with ALL spread into the CNS, demonstrating the potential impact this research could have in the future of ALL management.