Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Bone Marrow Transplant Complications Blocked

Queensland scientists have identified a way to prevent bone marrow transplant patients from suffering serious complications.

The team, led by Dr Kelli MacDonald of QIMR Berghofer, has worked out the cellular process that causes chronic graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), a life-threatening condition that can affect up to 80% of all bone marrow transplant patients. The team hopes to start clinical trials next year to test an antibody that could block this process.

“Bone marrow – or stem cell – transplants are a standard and successful treatment for about 1000 Australian leukaemia patients every year,” MacDonald said. “But while the transplant can provide a cure for leukaemia, the transplant-related complication of chronic GVHD is devastating and often life-threatening.”

Chronic GVHD occurs when the donor graft recognises the patient’s tissue as foreign, and starts to reject it. Over time the tissue becomes severely damaged and the scarring can affect a person’s skin, lungs and mouth.

Chronic GVHD is fatal in 20% of patients, and there are currently very limited treatment options. “Now that we’ve identified the white blood cells, or macrophages, that are driving the process, we’re keen to test an antibody we think will block the process,” MacDonald said.

The findings were published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation.