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Immunological detection of residual leukaemic disease in the bone marrow of children with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia

Br Med J 1978; 1 doi: (Published 04 March 1978) Cite this as: Br Med J 1978;1:544
  1. Shant Kumar,
  2. Trevor F Carr,
  3. Ian M Hann,
  4. Patricia H Morris Jones,
  5. David I K Evans


    Peripheral blood lymphocytes incubated with tumour cells or extracts may undergo blastogenesis. This is the basis of a technique studied in children with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) in childhood in an attempt to predict relapse. Samples of peripheral blood and bone marrow from 82 children with varying degrees of ALL were analysed. Cultures were prepared by incubating a lymphocyte suspension with an autologous bone-marrow suspension. Final ratios of lymphocytes to bone-marrow cells (L: BM) were 1: 1 and 2: 1. Control wells received bone-marrow or lymphocyte suspension only. Cultures were incubated for 72, 96, and 120 hours. All were pulse-labelled with 3H-TdR and radioactivity was measured by scintillation counting. Results were expressed as the stimulation index, calculated by dividing the mean counts per minute (cpm) of wells containing both lymphocytes and bone-marrow cells by the sum of the mean cpm for control wells. If the stimulation index exceeded 1 at 72, 96, or 120 hours at either L: BM ratio a positive response was recorded.

    Seventy-six children were in clinical remission at the time of testing (group A) and six were in clinical relapse (group B). In group A 24 patients showed stimulation and relapsed later at a mean time of 3·8 months (21 with marrow disease, two with testicular infiltration, and one with lung infiltration). Sixteen patients showed stimulation and had up to 4% blasts in their bone marrow but remained in remission. Nineteen other patients showed a positive response and several factors may have contributed to this: two underwent a “rebound” lymphocytosis after stopping treatment, nine had current or intercurrent infections, two had persistent unexplained bone-marrow lymphocytosis, but six had no causative symptoms and thus their responses were “true false-positives.” Seventeen patients from group A showed no response and remained in remission for a mean of 22·9 months after testing. None of the six children in group B responded, and at testing had 17-85% blasts in their bone marrow.

    During the study no patient relapsed who had not shown a positive response. The technique merits further study as a guide to the presence of leukaemic cells.