Cell-free DNA next-generation sequencing successfully detects infectious pathogens in pediatric oncology and hematopoietic stem cell transplant patients at risk for invasive fungal disease

Pediatr Blood Cancer. 2019 Jul;66(7):e27734. doi: 10.1002/pbc.27734. Epub 2019 Apr 2.


Background: We sought to determine if next-generation sequencing (NGS) of microbial cell-free DNA (cfDNA) in plasma would detect pathogens in pediatric patients at risk for invasive fungal disease (IFD).

Procedures: Pediatric hematology, oncology, and stem cell transplant patients deemed at risk for new IFD had blood samples drawn at three time-points separated by 1-month intervals. The primary outcome measure was detection of fungal pathogens compared to standard clinical testing. Secondary outcomes included identification of other infectious pathogens, relationship to European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer's Invasive Fungal Infections Cooperative Group and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases' Mycoses Study Group (EORTC/MSG) guidelines, and assessment of antifungal therapy.

Results: NGS identified fungal pathogens in seven of 40 at-risk patients for IFD and results were identical in four of six proven cases, including Aspergillus fumigatus by lung biopsy, Candida albicans by blood or pancreatic pseudocyst cultures, and Rhizopus delemar by skin biopsy. Rhizopus oryzae identified on skin biopsy and A. fumigatus isolated on day 27 of 28 of culture from lung biopsy were not detected by cfDNA NGS, possibly due to lack of bloodstream penetration and questionable pathogenicity, respectively. Numerous DNA viruses were detected in patients with prolonged febrile neutropenia or abnormal imaging. Extended antifungal therapy was used in 73% of patients. Follow-up cfDNA sequencing in patients who were positive at enrollment was negative at 1 and 2 months.

Conclusions: cfDNA NGS detected fungal pathogens from blood confirming its potential to guide treatment decisions in pediatric patients at risk for IFD and limit excessive empiric antifungal use. Future studies are needed to better understand the sensitivity and specificity of this approach.

Keywords: cell-free DNA; fungal disease; pediatric oncology; pediatric stem cell transplantation.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cell-Free Nucleic Acids* / blood
  • Cell-Free Nucleic Acids* / genetics
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • DNA, Fungal* / blood
  • DNA, Fungal* / genetics
  • Female
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation*
  • High-Throughput Nucleotide Sequencing*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Invasive Fungal Infections* / blood
  • Invasive Fungal Infections* / genetics
  • Male
  • Neoplasms* / blood
  • Neoplasms* / genetics
  • Neoplasms* / microbiology
  • Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Pilot Projects


  • Cell-Free Nucleic Acids
  • DNA, Fungal