Patient’s suitability for treatment for a rare type of lymphoma can now be detected early

In a first for patients of marginal zone lymphoma, a blood cancer affecting lymph glands, Dr Maciej Tatarczuch has found ways to inform doctors if the patient is likely to respond to a tablet medication, Zanubrutinib, even before the patient experiences any recurrence of symptoms. 

The clinical and laboratory haematologist found that by looking for the presence or absence of specific genetic mutations in tumour samples as well as through a blood test, he was able to detect when patients were becoming resistant to the medication earlier than could be observed with scans. 

Zanubrutinib was utilised in a clinical trial for patients with marginal zone lymphoma. The trial was a success, and the drug is expected to be available in Australia on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in the near future.  

Maciej’s research, which complemented the clinical trial, further informed doctors which patients were likely to respond best to this therapy. When this drug is available to the public, the findings in Maciej’s research can help identify patients who are likely to benefit the most. 

“Our study will hopefully improve the longevity and quality of life of patients with this rare type of lymphoma by better informing them and their doctors on their best treatment pathway,” Maciej says. 

Understanding the genes of this type of blood cancer is like having the blueprints to a house: doctors can tell if the ‘key’ to the house, the medication, is likely to fit and open a specific door into the house to access a ‘room’; treat the cancer. 

Marginal zone lymphoma is a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. In Australia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma is the sixth most common cause of cancer and the seventh leading cause of cancer death.  

Marginal zone lymphoma is a rare subgroup comprising approximately 5 to 10 per cent of non-Hodgkin lymphomas, making it hard to find alternative treatments to chemotherapy. It often affects older people with a median age of 66, and while it is slow growing, it is incurable and can cause significant morbidity and mortality.  

Symptoms include night sweats, fevers, loss of weight and excessive fatigue. The most commonly affected areas are lymph nodes, bone marrow, and spleen. 

 

Maciej is a PhD student in the Blood Cancer Therapeutics Laboratory and his research is in collaboration with the Australasian Leukaemia and Lymphoma Group (ALLG). 

 

 

Approved by: Gareth Gregory, Clinical Lead, Aggressive Lymphoma 

 

This article was first published by Monash University. 



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