The genomic landscape of pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia and precision medicine opportunities

Thai Hoa Tran, Stephen P. Hunger

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is the most common childhood cancer and constitutes approximately 25 % of cancer diagnoses among children under the age of 15 (Howlader et al., 2013) [1]. Overall, about half of ALL cases occur in children and adolescents and it is the most common acute leukemia until the early 20s, after which acute myeloid leukemia predominates. ALL is the most successful treatment paradigm in pediatric cancer medicine as illustrated by the significant survival rate improvement from ∼10 % in the 1960s to >90 % today (Hunger et al., 2015) [2]. This remarkable success stems from the progressive improvement in the efficacy of risk-adapted multiagent chemotherapy regimens with effective central nervous system (CNS) prophylaxis via well-designed randomized clinical trials conducted by international collaborative consortia, enhanced supportive care measures to decrease treatment-related mortality, in-depth understanding of the genetic basis of ALL, and refinement in treatment response assessment through serial minimal residual disease (MRD) monitoring (Pui et al., 2015) [3]. These advances collectively contribute to a decline in mortality rate of 23.5% for children diagnosed with ALL in the US from 2000 to 2010 (Smith et al., 2014) [4]. Nevertheless, outcomes of older adolescents and young adults with ALL still lag behind those of their younger counterparts despite pediatric-inspired chemotherapy regimens (Stock et al., 2019) [5], relapsed/refractory childhood ALL is associated with poor outcomes (Rheingold et al., 2019) [6], and ALL still represents the leading causes of cancer-related deaths (Smith et al., 2010) [7]. The last two decades have witnessed important genomic discoveries in ALL, enabled by advances in next-generation sequencing (NGS) technologies to characterize the landscape of germline and somatic alterations in ALL, some of which have important diagnostic, prognostic and therapeutic implications. Comprehensive genomic analysis of large cohorts of children and adults with ALL has revised the taxonomy of ALL in the molecular era by identifying novel clonal, subtype-defined chromosomal alterations associated with distinct gene expression signatures, thus reducing the proportion of patients previously labelled as “Others” from 25 % to approximately 5 % (Mullighan et al., 2019) [8]. Insights into the genomics of ALL further provide compelling biologic rationale to expand the scope of precision medicine therapies for childhood ALL. Herein, we summarize a decade of genomic discoveries to highlight three different facets of precision medicine in pediatric ALL: 1) inherited predispositions of ALL; 2) relevant molecularly targeted therapies in genomically-defined ALL subtypes; and 3) treatment response monitoring via pharmacogenomics and novel MRD biomarkers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)144-152
Number of pages9
JournalSeminars in Cancer Biology
StatePublished - Sep 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Acute lymphoblastic leukemia
  • Genomics
  • Inherited predisposition
  • Pharmacogenomics
  • Precision medicine


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