Researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine found that blocking the activity of a key protein can significantly cut down on the graft-versus-host immune response suffered by large numbers of patients who receive stem cell transplants.
About 20,000 of these transplants are given each year to patients with blood and bone marrow cancers, such as leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma. Graft-versus-host disease—which is the immune cells from the transplanted cells attacking the patient’s body as if it were a foreign invader—occurs in 30 to 40 percent of patients.
When the donor of stem cells is not a family member of the patient, graft-versus-host disease occurs in 60 percent to 80 percent of patients.
IU researchers, led by Dr. Sophie Paczesny, a researcher at the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center, found that blocking the activity of the protein ST2 in mice reduced the severity of graft-versus-host disease and lowered mortality. The researchers also found that with leukemia, blocking the activity of ST2 did not reduce the effectiveness of the stem cell transplants.
Those results were published recently in the journal Science Translational Medicine. The research involved eight researchers from IU, one from the University of Florida, one from the University of Minnesota, and one from Mie University Hospital in Japan.•