Conference Coverage

ASH 2022: New clinical data challenge long-held assumptions



In addition to the latest news in clinical care and drug development, some eyebrow-raising findings that challenge long-held, untested assumptions are promised from the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology.

The conference starts in New Orleans on Saturday, Dec. 10, , but a sample of what is to come was given last week in a preview media briefing, moderated by Mikkael A. Sekeres, MD, from the University of Miami. Dr. Sekeres, who recently authored a book on the FDA and how it regulates drug approvals, also serves as chair of the ASH Committee on Communications.

“Feeding Our Patients Gruel”

Dr. Sekeres expressed particular excitement about a multicenter randomized trial done in Italy. It showed that patients who have neutropenia after a stem cell transplant need not be required to eat a bland diet (Abstract 169).

“We for years have been essentially feeding our patients gruel in the hospital, and these are folks who have to be hospitalized for a stem cell transplant or in my case – I’m a leukemia specialist – for acute leukemia, for 4-6 weeks. The neutropenic diet consists of the blandest food you can imagine, with nothing to really spice it up.”

He noted that a neutropenic diet is so unpalatable that family members often sneak food into patient rooms, and “for years we’ve never seen adverse outcomes in any of those folks who instead of having mashed potatoes and oatmeal ate a corned beef sandwich for dinner.”

Now, the results from this trial “actually give us license to finally allow patients to eat whatever they want,” Dr. Sekeres said.

Practice-changing data

ASH experts pointed to two more presentations that are expected to change clinical practice. These include the finding that high-dose methotrexate does not reduce the risk for central nervous system relapse in children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia and lymphoblastic lymphoma (Abstract 214).

Another new study that seems to defy conventional wisdom showed that in adults with relapsed or refractory acute myeloid leukemia, intensive chemotherapy in an effort to achieve remission before a stem cell transplant did not result in better outcomes, compared with sequential conditioning and immediate transplant (Abstract 4).

Premature aging in HL survivors

ASH President Jane N. Winter, MD, from Northwestern University, Chicago, who also spoke at the briefing, highlighted a study that followed adult survivors of pediatric Hodgkin lymphoma. This study, from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis and the Wilmot Cancer Institute at the University of Rochester (N.Y), found that these adult survivors are at significantly elevated risk for epigenetic age acceleration accompanied by neurocognitive deficits when compared with controls (Abstract 902).

“This is an area that is very near and dear to my heart,” she said. “Much of my career has focused on reducing the therapy to reduce the long-term consequences of treatments. Pediatricians have been very much wedded to very intensive therapies and tend to incorporate radiation more commonly in their treatment strategies for children than we do in adults.”

Dr. Winter noted that, although clinicians focus primarily on the link between mediastinal radiation and long-term adverse events such as breast cancer, “now we’re shedding a light on the neurocognitive deficits, which I think are underappreciated. Being able to screen for this impact of our treatment, and perhaps then develop strategies to deal with it or prevent it, will have very wide-ranging impact.”


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