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£270K to prevent transplant deaths
Southampton scientists have been given more than a quarter of a million pounds in a bid to reduce the number of blood cancer patients dying after bone marrow transplants.
The research will allow experts at the University of Southampton to explore ways of preventing side effects that can prove fatal despite the patient beating the cancer.
The team, led by Aymen Al- Shamkhani, a professor of immunology, has been given £270,000 for the three-year project to improve transplants, which often offer a last chance of a cure for patients with many different types of blood cancer.
When transplanted, donor bone marrow helps to replenish a healthy blood supply, repairing damage caused by chemotherapy.
But sometimes, instead of white cells, also known as T-cells, only attacking any malignant leukaemia cells that have survived chemotherapy, they attack healthy cells.
Known as graft-vs-host disease (GVHD), it occurs in around half of all bone marrow transplants and can be life-threatening and cause long-term health problems, even once the cancer has gone.
Prof Al-Shamkhani’s team will investigate ways to stimulate donor T-cells so that they only target the cancerous cells and don’t get worn out, thus making the T-cells more effective at fighting the cancer while reducing the chances of GVHD.
Prof Al-Shamkhani said: “Recent research has provided some indication of ways in which GVHD can be prevented, although often the delayed introduction of the T-cells has led to relapse. By gaining a better understanding of the mechanisms of the disease and the way T-cells fight blood cancer, we hope to be able to design treatments that can deliver the best possible chances of survival.”
The money has been awarded by blood cancer charity Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research.
Professor Chris Bunce, from the charity, added: “GVHD in blood cancer transplants is a major side effect and often leads to serious health problems, even if the original disease had been destroyed. The potential benefits of this project could go beyond blood cancers, as GVHD can occur in many transplants.”