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Protein Could Help Identify Chronic Graft-vs-Host Disease

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Key Points

  • Researchers found elevated levels of CXCL10 in the blood of transplant recipients around the time they developed chronic graft-vs-host disease.
  • This protein appears to impact a patient's normal immune cells, preventing the body from fighting graft-vs-host disease.

A new study published by Kariminia et al in the journal Blood has identified a protein that could diagnose chronic graft-vs-host disease in patients undergoing blood and bone marrow transplantation. The work was led by researchers in the Michael Cuccione Childhood Cancer Research Program at BC Children's Hospital and the University of British Columbia.

Chronic graft-vs-host disease affects approximately 30% to 50% of blood and bone marrow transplant recipients. Early diagnosis is key to preventing the lifelong impact of the disease, but currently no such test exists. In search of a diagnostic test, researchers found elevated levels of a protein, CXCL10, in the blood of transplant recipients around the time they developed chronic graft-vs-host disease. Testing a transplant patient for this protein could provide the early diagnosis physicians urgently need.

“A child with leukemia can be cured with a blood and marrow transplant but then has to suffer a lifelong disease, cGvHD, which causes a major decrease in their life expectancy and quality of life,” said Kirk Schultz, MD, the study's principal investigator, a scientist at BC Children's Hospital, and Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of British Columbia.

“Diagnostic tests are desperately needed to make blood and marrow transplants safer,” he said. “At this time, there are no good tests to diagnose [chronic graft-vs-host disease], and the disease can only be identified too late, when it is already established. If we can diagnose it earlier and better, then treatments can be used to stop it before it becomes a chronic, disabling disease.”

Study Findings

In the study, researchers compared blood samples from two groups of adult patients—170 who developed graft-vs-host disease and 180 who did not. They analyzed the samples to identify proteins in the blood that could be an early sign of the disease, finding elevated levels of the inflammatory protein CXCL10. This protein appears to impact a patient's normal immune cells, preventing the body from fighting graft-vs-host disease.

The disease can damage the skin, liver, lungs, and digestive tract. Patients who develop graft-vs-host disease are at greater risk for a range of issues including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and endocrine abnormalities.

This study is one of the largest analyses to date, with 350 participants at 16 Canadian, American, German, and Saudi Arabian institutes. Further study is necessary before a diagnostic test for chronic graft-vs-host disease can be put into clinical use.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.


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