Predicting treatment response in Hodgkin Lymphoma by identifying new molecular markers

Hodgkin lymphoma is the most common type of malignant lymphoma in young people in the Western world. Despite modern treatments, about 20 per cent of patients die. Present studies have tried to identify ways to predict which patients are likely to be cured, using characteristics such as age, stage (degree of spread of the lymphoma), blood tests and x-rays or scans. However, these predictions are often inaccurate. Other genetic approaches to testing have proved difficult because malignant cells are present in very low numbers. Dr. Christian Steidl’s research focuses on developing tests to identify patients who will not be cured with current standard therapy, so that they may enrol in clinical trials testing innovative, new treatments. He is using a laser beam to capture individual malignant cells within lymph nodes so they can be studied separately from the surrounding non-malignant cells. This enables him to investigate how the genetic material in the malignant and non-malignant cells is altered and how this affects the behaviour of these cells – leading to the identification of markers that can predict treatment response. With a better understanding of the markers that can predict treatment response, physicians will be able to choose the right therapies for patients with Hodgkin lymphoma. This will help prevent both insufficient treatment and excessive treatment, which can lead to toxic side-effects. Identification of genes that are important for the malignant cells to survive will also help to develop new drugs that specifically target these cells.