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Research into NHL

Read about the latest research and clinical trials looking at the causes, monitoring and treatment of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).

All cancer treatments have to be fully researched before they can be used for everyone. This is so we can be sure that:

  • they work
  • they work better than the treatments already available 
  • they are known to be safe

In this video, Jean talks about her experience of taking part in a clinical trial for NHL. It lasts for 2 minutes. 

Researchers are looking at the causes of some types of lymphoma and chronic leukaemia. They are looking at blood, bone marrow and tissue samples from people with white blood cell disorders. They hope to learn more about the causes and possible treatments.

Tests to monitor treatment

In one study, researchers are collecting information about the genes in people’s lymphoma cells. This is called molecular profiling.

The trial team are also recording the treatment that people have and how well the treatments work. It's possible that changes to genes in certain types of lymphoma can encourage the lymphoma to grow. New treatments might be able to target these gene changes.

Often after treatment for NHL, the disease appears to have gone and you are said to be in remission. But there are often lymphoma cells left behind. This is called minimal residual disease (MRD).

Scientists are exploring new ways of finding out if there are lymphoma cells left behind after the disease appears to have clinically gone. These tests can help your doctors to find out how well chemotherapy has worked and whether your lymphoma is likely to come back (relapse).

Many tests are used to do this. To help doctors decide who needs further treatment and who does not, researchers are looking at:

  • different scans such as PET and PET-CT scans 
  • substances in the body called biomarkers 

A small study looked at a new type of scan called magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS). MRS gives information about the activity inside a cancer by looking at chemical changes.

In this study, 20 people with NHL had an MRS scan at the start of their chemotherapy. Doctors wanted to see if the scan could help to predict how well people did after treatment.

Researchers found that the MRS scan could be used to predict the likely outcome of these people. They recommended that more work be done in this area to confirm the results of this small study.


Research is looking at new chemotherapy drug combinations for some types of NHL. Other trials are looking at new ways of giving standard chemotherapy drugs for different types and stages of lymphoma.

Combining with other treatment

There is research looking at combining chemotherapy with different types of targeted cancer drugs (biological therapies) and comparing it with standard treatments. For example, adding copanlisib to the drug combination R-CHOP.

Rare types 

Chemotherapy is also used to treat some of the rare types of NHL. One trial compared 2 different chemotherapy drugs for a type of NHL called Waldenstrom's macroglobulinaemia. The team found that fludarabine chemotherapy was a better treatment than chlorambucil.

Radiotherapy is a common treatment for NHL. But it can have troublesome side effects.

Lower doses

Researchers have compared a lower dose of radiotherapy with standard dose radiotherapy. They found a lower dose was as good as standard dose radiotherapy and side effects were similar. But reddening and darkening of the skin was less for people who had the lower dose radiotherapy.

Leaving out radiotherapy

You usually have chemotherapy and rituximab to treat a rare type of NHL in the chest called primary mediastinal large B cell lymphoma (PMBCL). You might then have radiotherapy to your chest. But radiotherapy can increase the risk of heart problems and of getting another cancer in the future. Researchers are looking to see if it is safe to leave radiotherapy out of the treatment plan for some people with PMBCL. 

Monoclonal antibodies

These drugs work by recognising and attaching to specific proteins produced by cells. They work in different ways, depending on the protein they target. 

MABs, such as rituximab, are now a standard treatment for some types of NHL. Trials are looking at newer MABs, either on their own, in combination with other MABs, or alongside other treatments. These include:

  • BI 1206
  • GSK2857916
  • ofatumumab
  • mogamulizumab

Cancer growth blockers

Cancer growth blockers work by blocking the growth factors that trigger cancer cells to divide and grow. Examples include copanlisib, ibrutinib, bortezomib and fostamatinib. 

PARP inhibitors

PARP is short for Poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase. It is a protein that helps damaged cells to repair themselves. PARP inhibitors stop PARP working. Doctors are looking at the PARP inhibitor olaparib for mantle cell lymphoma and leukaemia.

Immunotherapy uses our immune system to recognise and attack cancer cells. One type of immunotherapy is CAR T-cell therapy. Researchers are looking at this as a way to treat lymphoma, leukaemia and other types of cancer.

With this treatment doctors take a sample of a person’s T cells (a type of white blood cell). The medical team then change (genetically alter) these T cells in the laboratory. These altered T cells are called CAR T-cells.

The patient then has a drip of the CAR T-cells into their bloodstream. For people with lymphoma, these CAR T-cells are designed to recognise and target a specific protein on the lymphoma cells. They aim to attack and kill the lymphoma cells.

Half matched transplants

A transplant using donor cells is called an allogenic transplant. Usually, the donor is a very close match to the person having the transplant. 

Sometimes doctors can't find a match for a person needing a transplant. So they are looking at half matched transplants, where the donor is at least 50% match with the person having the transplant.  

Mini Transplants (Low intensity transplant)

In a mini transplant you have a lower dose of chemotherapy, also called low intensity treatment. So this treatment can be suitable for people who are not well enough for a standard high dose treatment. 

One trial is looking at a mini transplant for a type of NHL called mantle cell lymphoma. The trial is trying to find out whether this is a safe treatment for mantle cell lymphoma. And whether it is better for people to have a transplant sooner in their treatment, rather than wait for their lymphoma to come back.

Donor lymphocyte donation

Researchers are looking at giving extra T cells, a type of white blood cell, after a mini transplant. Doctors think that giving specific T cells called CD4 cells may help boost immunity and reduce the risk of infection.

In this trial, people have extra CD4 cells from their donor a few months after their transplant. This is called a donor lymphocyte infusion. The trial team hope that the CD4 cells will recognise and kill any lymphoma cells left behind. This is called the graft versus lymphoma (GvL) effect.

Using umbilical cord blood 

Research is looking at using stem cells collected from the umbilical cords of newborn babies. These cord blood transplants are for people who don't have a relative who can be their stem cell donor.

Older children and adults might need the stem cells from more than one umbilical cord. Researchers want to find out if it is safe to do a transplant in adults and children using cord blood from unrelated donors.

Trials are looking at the use of cord blood stem cells after intensive treatment in some people. And following reduced intensity treatment in other people.

Last reviewed: 
02 Jan 2018
  • Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials Database
    Accessed January, 2018

  • PET/CT for Lymphoma Post-therapy Response Assessment in Other Lymphomas, ResponseAssessment for Autologous Stem Cell Transplant, and Lymphoma Follow-up

    S Karis and others (2018) 

    Seminars in nuclear medicine Jan;48(1):37-49

  • Harnessing the power of the immune system in non-Hodgkin lymphoma: immunomodulators, checkpoint inhibitors, and beyond

    S Ansell (2017) 

    Hematology 8;2017(1):618-621

  • Beyond Dose: Using Pretherapy Biomarkers to Improve Dose Prediction of Outcomes for Radioimmunotherapy of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma

    P Roberson and others (2017) 

    Cancer biotherapy and radiopharmaceuticals Nov;32(9):309-319

  • Favorable outcome of primary mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma patients treated with sequential RCHOP-RICE regimen without radiotherapy

    N Goldschmidt and others (2016) 

    Cancer chemotherapy and pharmacology  May;77(5):1053-60

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. Please contact with details of the particular issue you are interested in if you need additional references for this information.

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