Aussie researchers uncovered immune signatures to distinguish lethal child cancer infection

An Australian research could identify the child cancer patients at greatest risk of developing life-threatening infections, marking a crucial step towards the development of an early diagnostic test.

The research was released by Australia’s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) this week and was published in Clinical & Translational Immunology.

Researchers claimed that they identified the first immune profiles in children with cancer that could identify those at risk of serious infection during febrile neutropenia (FN).

Leveraging WEHI’s Next Generation Sequencing, researchers were able to compare the transcriptional profiles of blood cells from children with cancer and FN, to identify 24 genes that could be used to distinguish between mild and severe FN infections.

“This project was established to find potential biomarkers that could be tested for, as soon as children with cancer and FN present in the hospital,” said Professor Marc Pellegrini, joint division head of Infectious Diseases and Immune Defense, WEHI.

“This would enable clinicians to determine a patient’s infection severity and most importantly, to customize treatment.”

Researchers said all child cancer patients with FN are currently treated as high-risk and receive intravenous antibiotics, despite less than a quarter being potentially life-threatening.

The discovery could lead to a diagnostic test to identify children at risk of severe FN infections, preventing patients worldwide from receiving unnecessary and potentially disruptive medical treatment.

FN is a major cause of treatment disruption and unplanned hospitalization in childhood cancer patients. It occurs when patients contract a fever when their neutrophils, a type of white blood cell, are low. FN and antibiotic resistance are critical problems during cancer therapy.

Researchers hope their findings could prevent children from receiving unnecessary antibiotics, by helping clinicians optimize the use of the treatment for children at risk of suffering severe complications. ■

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