Protein could help bone marrow transplants


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

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

But in up to 70 per cent of patients they cause graft-versus-host disease, where donor immune cells attack host tissue in the skin, gut and lungs.

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

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

Head of QIMR Berghofer’s Immunopathology Laboratory, Dr Kate Gartlan, says the IL-29 protein boosts gut stem cells in mice.

Those cells help the gut regenerate, strengthening it after damage, such as GVHD.

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

“This is the first time anyone has identified the way in which Interferon-Lambda works on gut stem cells to protect them from damage.

“We can’t say yet that Interferon-Lambda will definitely have the same effect in humans, but these early results in mice are promising.”

QIMR Berghofer researcher and Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital transplant physician Dr Andrea Henden 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 gut,” Dr Henden said in a statement.

“At the moment, there are limited effective treatments available, 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 also start testing it in patients with gut damage and inflammation.

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

“Hopefully, we could also reduce the use of toxic drugs in patients who develop GVHD.”

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

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


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