Protein May Help Bone Marrow Transplants


A naturally occurring protein could protect blood cancer patients from the potentially fatal side effects of bone marrow transplants.

Bone marrow transplants can cure cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma.

But in up to 70 percent of patients, they cause graft-versus-host disease, where the donor’s immune cells attack host tissues in the skin, intestine, and lungs.

A new study shows that the immune system protein called Interferon-Lambda-29 may protect the gut from GVHD after transplants.

Brisbane’s QIMR-Berghofer Institute and Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center published the results in the journal Blood on Monday.

Dr. Kate Gartlan, head of the immunopathology laboratory at QIMR Berghofer, says the IL-29 protein stimulates intestinal stem cells in mice.

These cells help the intestine to regenerate itself, strengthening it after damage, such as GVHD.

“These mice performed better later after bone marrow transplants because IL-29 protected them from the inflammation we usually see,” she said in a statement.

“This is the first time that someone has identified how interferon-Lambda works on intestinal stem cells to protect them from damage.

“We cannot yet say that interferon-Lambda will certainly have the same effect in humans, but these early results in mice are promising.”

Dr Andrea Henden, a researcher at QIMR Berghofer and a transplant physician at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, said the IL-29 protein could help human patients.

She said it could be given to patients before transplants to help strengthen their tissue stem cells.

“Graft versus host disease is a terrible complication of bone marrow transplantation, especially when it involves the bowel,” Dr. Henden said in a statement.

“At the moment, effective treatments available are limited, so we desperately need new options to prevent this often fatal disease.

“Interferon-Lambda is already available as a drug for other diseases, so we hope to start testing it in patients with bowel damage and inflammation as well.

“If we could make the bone marrow transplant safer, then we could use it to treat more blood cancer patients.

“I hope we can also reduce the use of toxic drugs in patients who develop GVHD.”

Dr Henden also said that the IL-29 protein could be used to strengthen intestinal tissue and prevent inflammation in other disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn’s disease.

“In a next step, we also hope to test if this is the case,” she added.

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