Monitoring and understanding acute myeloid leukemia

Seven research projects were recently awarded funding thanks to our partnership with Equity Trustees. This collaboration recognises high impact research projects that directly benefit children and those suffering with cancer, heart disease and depression. The following highlights one of the funded projects: Monitoring transcriptional evolution in acute myeloid leukaemia using circulating tumour DNA – the SNIPER assay. We spoke to project lead Dr Paul Yeh about the project.


What is your project addressing?

This research will pioneer a world-first assay called SNIPER which uses a simple blood test to monitor and understand acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).

The SNIPER assay uses the concept of circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA) to help us profile AML.

ctDNA are tiny fragments of DNA released from bone marrow leukaemia cells into the bloodstream. Using cutting-edge techniques and a patented analysis algorithm, SNIPER harnesses ctDNA to accurately profile AML and gather information on how the leukemia is behaving (gene expression).

SNIPER only requires a blood test which can be repeated during therapy without the need for invasive bone marrow biopsies.


Is there a need for this particular project?

AML is an aggressive haematologic malignancy characterised by the proliferation of immature myeloid cells. Although treatment of AML has improved, treatment failure is still a major problem. Only 1 in 4 patients with AML will survive beyond five years.

Improving clinical outcomes in AML patients rests on our ability to serially monitor and understand AML evolution, particularly in the context of therapy. We critically need new ways to monitor disease and understand why treatment fails so we can better treat AML. This is challenging as currently no test can accurately track AML behaviour in real-time without repeated invasive bone marrow biopsies.


What is the aim of the project?

The project will be a first-in-world study where we deploy the SNIPER method on patients with AML receiving treatment. We expect that the results of this research will provide unprecedented insights into AML evolution by providing new opportunities for disease monitoring. This will lead to the development of new treatment strategies to improve AML patient outcomes.


What stage is the project at? 

We have currently just started the project and have started to collect samples on AML patients.


What outcomes will the project see?

As a study like this has not been performed in AML, this research will give AML patients in the Monash Partners network unprecedented access to cutting-edge diagnostics which allows for better characterisation and monitoring of their disease. Furthermore, the research will also serve as a platform to build capacity and world-leading expertise in this assay within the Monash Partners network.

This project has vast potential to transform the way AML is monitored, to further our understanding of AML evolution and to guide future therapeutic strategies to improve survival.


What does funding of this project mean?

I am really excited to begin as we feel our research proposal has the ability to change the way we view cancer biology and diagnostics. The support of Equity Trustees and Monash Partners means that we can fast-track this research to ultimately see if we can translate our findings to be part of routine care and improve patient outcomes.


Watch this space for future project developments.