Great effort is spent on developing therapies to improve the dire outcomes of those diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. The methods for quantifying response to therapeutic intervention have however lacked sensitivity. Patients achieving a complete remission as defined by conventional cytomorphological methods therefore remain at risk of subsequent relapse due to disease persistence. Improved risk stratification is possible based on tests designed to detect this residual leukemic burden (measurable residual disease). However, acute myeloid leukemia is a genetically diverse set of diseases, which has made it difficult to develop a single, highly reproducible, and sensitive assay for measurable residual disease. Here we present the development of a digital targeted RNA-sequencing-based approach designed to overcome these limitations by detecting all newly approved European LeukemiaNet molecular targets for measurable residual disease in acute myeloid leukemia in a single standardized assay. Iterative modifications and novel bioinformatics approaches resulted in a greater than 100-fold increase in performance compared with commercially available targeted RNA-sequencing approaches and a limit of detection as low as one leukemic cell in 100,000 cells measured, which is comparable to quantitative polymerase chain reaction analysis, the current gold standard for the detection of measurable residual disease. This assay, which can be customized and expanded, is the first demonstrated use of high-sensitivity RNA-sequencing for measurable residual disease detection in acute myeloid leukemia and could serve as a broadly applicable standardized tool.
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