Medical researchers from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia have developed a new quantitative method to predict the response of patients with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) to the azacitidine (AZA) drug.

MDS patients experience an impaired production of peripheral blood cells and abnormal bone marrow, and AZA is formulated to improve the production and reduce the risk of leukaemia.

Approximately half of the patients do not respond to AZA and it takes around four to six months to assess an individual’s response to the treatment.

To avoid this ‘futile treatment’, the researchers have developed a new prediction method based on their observation that patients who do not respond to AZA are characterised by a rise in cell cycle quiescence of blood cells.

“AZA-MS now allows us to identify early on which patients will not respond to AZA.”

UNSW Medicine research fellow Dr Ashwin Unnikrishnan said: “The new method, called AZA-MS, utilises a cutting-edge technique known as mass spectrometry to measures the different forms of AZA inside blood cells of patients such as the AZA molecules that are incorporated into the DNA or RNA.

“AZA-MS now allows us to identify early on which patients will not respond to AZA.”

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UNSW Medicine researcher professor John Pimanda is set to lead a clinical trial in collaboration with Celgene and various hospitals in the New South Wales region to assess the new AZA-MS method in combination with another related test over the coming months.

Professor Pimanda said: “One of the benefits of using the test in this trial is that it will help determine if people respond to AZA tablets, compared to the currently used injectable form.”