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QIMR’S world-first discovery for Hodgkin lymphoma patients

Scientists at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research have discovered that a simple blood test can determine how well chemotherapy is working in Hodgkin lymphoma patients.

The discovery by Professor Maher Gandhi and Kimberley Jones from QIMR’s Clinical Immunohaematology Laboratory could mean personalised treatment for patients with the blood cancer.

“This has the potential to be a huge aid for doctors in their decision making and a faster and less invasive process for the patients,” Professor Gandhi said.

“Up until now, clinicians have relied on scans to help them judge how well people are responding to chemotherapy. The imaging is expensive, it can be difficult to interpret, and can be limited to just one scan before treatment starts, and another when treatment is finished.

“This discovery means we can work towards using simple blood tests to provide quicker, cheaper, and more regular monitoring of how a person is responding to treatment.”

About 400 Australians are diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma each year. It is most common in adolescents and young adults, and more likely to occur in men than women.

The QIMR team found that levels of a certain protein – CD163 – are elevated in Hodgkin lymphoma patients’ serum and drop as the tumour shrinks during chemotherapy.

“Chemotherapy drugs are toxic, and the more you use, the higher the chances of side-effects down the track,” Ms Jones said.

“Testing for these protein levels, using a simple blood test, could show doctors whether the treatment is working, whether they can reduce the doses, or, conversely, whether they need to increase the doses to beat the cancer.”

“In short, it means a way forward to personalised treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma patients, and hopefully smaller doses of chemotherapy drugs.”

The scientists have spent the past six years following 47 Hodgkin Lymphoma patients from diagnosis to recovery. The next step is a larger international study of patients in collaboration with the Australasian Leukaemia Lymphoma Group and doctors in the UK.

This research is funded by the Cancer Council Queensland, the Leukaemia Foundation Queensland and Health and Medical Research, Preventive Health Unit, Queensland Department of Health.

The paper, published in Clinical Cancer Research is available online at