On Saturday and Sunday, the IMF was honored to chair a workshop in Tokyo, Japan, which introduced Next-Generation Flow Cytometry to more than 160 researchers and technicians eager to learn about this super-sensitive automated new myeloma measuring method.
Next-Generation Flow (NGF), as I’ve written about here, here and here, was developed with the support of the IMF’s signature Black Swan Research Initiative® and is a crucial step in our ability to chart a pathway to a cure. (Watch IMF’s video about the groundbreaking new technology here.)
Susie Novis, IMF president, welcomed workshop attendees on behalf of the organization and was followed by Hirokazu Murakami (current President of the Japanese Society of Myeloma) and Kenshi Suzuki (Deputy Director of the Red Cross Medical Center), who greeted the audience and thanked the IMF for organizing the workshop. The opening session was co-chaired by myself and Dr. Kazuyuki Shimizu. Dr. Hiroyuki Takamatsu of Kanazawa University set the stage for the presentations to come by describing the perspective of minimal residual disease (MRD) testing in Japan.
Up to now, the key effort in Japan has been to assess NGS (Next Generation Sequencing), which measures MRD using molecular data. As such, Dr. Takamatsu presented a recap of his NGS presentation at the ASH 2014 meeting in December in San Francisco. However, Japanese investigators at the workshop were very keen to hear about Next Generation Flow testing, which can be equally sensitive and much more practical for broad use in Japan.
Throughout the day, Dr. Alberto Orfao of the University of Salamanca in Spain and Dr. Jacques van Dongen of Erasmus Medical Center in The Netherlands examined the current, conventional flow methods of detecting MRD in myeloma as a backdrop to their presentations on the Next Generation Flow technology details, including panel design, data analysis and interpretation, and cross-platform applicability. The day’s closing remarks (by myself, Dr. Orfao and Dr. van Dongen) concentrated on the vast improvement in disease detection NGF represents.
It was really heartwarming—and very much appreciated—to hear Dr. Takamatsu, who started the day talking about NGS, tell Dr. Orfao: “I am convinced about the sensitivity and practicality of the NGF method, and look forward to implementing NGF at my center as soon as possible!”
In addition, Dr. Suzuki indicated similar enthusiasm and a desire to adopt the NGF broadly for JMS investigators.
The Japanese were actually the first to hear that based upon the most recent testing, the new NGF method is even more sensitive than originally anticipated: able to detect one myeloma cell in a million or even one in 10 million! In addition, as Dr. Orfao explained, the computer software program for automatic data analysis has been improved since our last workshop was presented in New York at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, with a data analysis time of now only 12 minutes—reduced from several hours! This means that samples can easily be analyzed with same-day results, which is a huge advantage.
On the second day of the workshop, participants attended “hands-on” training, courtesy of Juan Flores-Montero of the University of Salamanca. Dr. Suzuki had done a fantastic job in facilitating the “hands-on” session, which went very smoothly and generated tremendous interest from the participants. Especially helpful was a practical, step-by-step video, subtitled in Japanese, which had been prepared in advance by the Salamanca team to demonstrate sample preparation.
Members of IMF’s Asian Myeloma Network (AMN) from Japan, China, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand engaged in a spirited discussion of the role NGF might play in their respective myeloma treatment practice and research.
Speaking on behalf of the AMN team, Dr. Wee Joo Chng said that the new NGF method represents a major step forward for the myeloma community and provides a reliable, accessible method for routine MRD testing throughout Asia. According to Dr. Chng, who chairs the AMN Clinical Trials Group, the plan is to integrate NGF into upcoming trials.
The IMF’s Tokyo Next Gen Flow Workshop ended on a very positive note, with plans to move forward in the near future. The concrete plans at the end of the workshop were many, ranging from multiple individual contacts with the visiting NGF team as well as broad commitments for collaborations with the JMS. Dr. Kazuyuki Shimizu, past President of the Japanese Society of Myeloma and Chairman for the IMW Congress held in Kyoto in 2013 noted that: “Now I believe most Japanese doctors can understand the importance of NGF… I believe that the landscape of the [use of] flow testing in Japan will be changed.” So stay tuned for further developments!
I continue to receive thoughtful comments on my recent blog about crowdfunding. This new approach to fundraising deserves careful consideration with an equally thoughtful response to those who have taken the time to write.
Finding a cure for myeloma requires a coordinated effort. It is like solving a complicated puzzle. Although each individual effort helps and every dollar counts, I believe it is better to work together to reduce the possibility of wasted time and effort. What has been an issue up to now is that many investigators have focused on the same part of the puzzle leaving many other parts incomplete. Looking at the whole picture provides the perspective to assign efforts appropriately and utilize the best expertise of individual investigators.
Collaboration makes a huge difference in finding the answer faster. The IMF, the International Myeloma Working Group (IMWG) and the Black Swan Research Initiative® provide a framework within which all interested parties can contribute, suggest new parts of the puzzle to solve or to contribute to ongoing active areas of research.
It has been amazing to learn from open discussions that many parts of the puzzle are completed and to avoid duplication of effort it is important to focus efforts elsewhere.
Collaboration, communication and a team effort bring knowledge and energy to this effort to achieve a cure, which will undoubtedly succeed.
Dr. Brian G.M. Durie serves as Chairman of the International Myeloma Foundation and serves on its Scientific Advisory Board. Additionally, he is Chairman of the IMF's International Myeloma Working Group, a consortium of nearly 200 myeloma experts from around the world. Dr. Durie also leads the IMF’s Black Swan Research Initiative®.