A trial looking at plasma exchange in patients with newly diagnosed myeloma and kidney failure (MERIT)

Please note - this trial is no longer recruiting patients. We hope to add results when they are available.

Cancer type:

Blood cancers




Phase 3

This trial is looking at plasma exchange to help treat kidney damage in people with myeloma. This trial is supported by Cancer Research UK.

People with myeloma often have high levels of proteins called immunoglobulins in their blood. These extra proteins can damage the kidneys, as they pass through from the blood into the urine.

About 5 out of every 100 myeloma patients (5%) have serious kidney failure when they are first diagnosed with myeloma. At the moment, these patients often need to have dialysis for life.

Doctors think that a process called ‘plasma exchange’ may help damaged kidneys to work again. Plasma exchange is a way of removing some of the extra proteins in the blood. They hope that lowering the levels of these proteins will stop damage to the kidneys, which will then be able to recover. So patients will not need dialysis.

But doctors aren’t sure if this way of treating kidney failure caused by myeloma works very well or not. The aim of this trial is to see if plasma exchange together with steroid and chemotherapy treatment will help damaged kidneys to recover.

Who can enter

You can enter this trial if you

  • Have recently been diagnosed with myeloma and have kidney failure (renal failure) caused by your myeloma
  • Are at least 18 years old
  • Are prepared to use reliable contraception while you are taking part in this trial

You cannot enter this trial if you

  • Have had chemotherapy for your myeloma before
  • Are known to be HIV positive (but you will not be tested as part of this trial)
  • Have kidney failure that is not related to your myeloma
  • Have heart failure
  • Have liver failure
  • Have a stomach ulcer
  • Are pregnant

Trial design

This is a randomised trial. It will recruit 286 patients. There are 2 groups. The patients taking part will be put into treatment groups by a computer. Neither you nor your doctor will be able to decide which group you are in.

  • If you are in group 1 you will have 2 four day courses of dexamethasone tablets in the first 2 weeks, and then have chemotherapy
  • If you are in group 2 you will have 2 four day courses of dexamethasone tablets and have plasma exchange 7 times in first 2 weeks, then have chemotherapy

If you have plasma exchange you will have a central line put into a vein above your collar bone, or maybe in your groin. Your blood will pass through a machine, which will remove some of the blood plasma Open a glossary item which contains the extra proteins that are damaging your kidneys. You will have some purified blood plasma given back to you in return. This process takes about 2 or 3 hours each time.

All patients taking part will have chemotherapy. Your doctor will talk to you about the combination of drugs that you will have. Your chemotherapy treatment will last for about 3 months (100 days).

You may have a biopsy of your kidney. If you do, you will be asked if this can be sent to the trial pathologist for analysis.

You will be asked to fill out a questionnaire before you start treatment, and again 3, 6 and 12 months later. This will ask you how you are feeling and about any side effects you are having. It is called a Quality of Life study.

Hospital visits

You will probably already be in hospital when you start treatment. You will not be in hospital any longer as a result of taking part in this trial.

You will have some tests as part of your treatment for myeloma. The only extra tests you will have because you are taking part in this trial are small number of blood tests.

The tests you will have include

You may also have a kidney biopsy Open a glossary item. You will have blood tests and urine tests before each cycle of chemotherapy. You are likely to be in hospital for treatment to start with. But once the doctors are happy that you are stable you should be able to have chemotherapy as an outpatient.

After the trial you will see the doctors regularly as part of your treatment for myeloma. You will have blood tests 6 months and a year after you join the trial.

Side effects

As with most treatments, there are some possible side effects of plasma exchange. You may

  • Feel light headed when you have the exchange
  • Notice you bleed or bruise more easily than usual (some proteins that help the blood to clot may be removed in the exchange - you will have blood tests to check the level of these proteins), although this is rare
  • Be at increased risk of getting an infection

The most common side effects of Adriamycin and vincristine are

There is more information about Adriamycin and vincristine on CancerHelp UK.

Recruitment start:

Recruitment end:

How to join a clinical trial

Please note: In order to join a trial you will need to discuss it with your doctor, unless otherwise specified.

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Chief Investigator

Dr Gill Gaskin
Dr Judith Behrens

Supported by

Cancer Research UK
Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (ECMC)
NIHR Clinical Research Network: Cancer
Renal Association
UK Myeloma Forum

Other information

This is Cancer Research UK trial number CRUK/03/004.

Questions about cancer? Contact our information nurses

Freephone 0808 800 4040

Last review date

CRUK internal database number:

Oracle 330

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Charlie took part in a trial to try new treatments

A picture of Charlie

“I think it’s really important that people keep signing up to these type of trials to push research forward.”

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