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Researchers at many medical centers, hospitals, and other institutions are looking at the causes, diagnosis, and treatment of acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL).

Finding "hidden" disease (minimal residual disease)

Progress has been made in finding leukemia cells after treatment when there may be so few leukemia cells that they cannot be found by routine bone marrow tests. A test called polymerase chain reaction (PCR) can find one cancer cell among many thousands of normal cells. This is helpful in seeing how well the chemo has destroyed the leukemia cells and if a relapse is likely. Doctors are now trying to figure out whether patients with minimal residual disease will be helped by further or more intense treatment.

Better chemotherapy

Studies are going on to find the best combinations of chemotherapy (chemo) drugs (those that work the best and cause the fewest side effects) and to figure out which patients will be helped the most from different types of treatment. Sometimes chemo does not work very well because the leukemia cells become resistant to it. Researchers are now looking at ways to prevent or reverse this resistance by using other drugs along with chemo. New chemo drugs are also being developed and tested.

Stem cell transplants

Studies are also being done to improve the stem cell transplant process and to predict which patients are most likely to be helped by this treatment.

Monoclonal antibodies

These are man-made immune system proteins that attach to certain molecules on the surface of the leukemia cells. Some of them are already used to treat certain lymphomas. Researchers are now looking at whether they might be helpful against ALL. Early results have been good, but it is still too early to know for sure.

Last Medical Review: 12/08/2014
Last Revised: 02/22/2016