Developing a risk score for graft-versus host disease in stem cell transplants

Lead researcher - Professor Paul Moss, University of Birmingham
Study of early immune reconstitution following stem cell transplantation: biological significance and therapeutic opportunities
Amount awarded: £298,487
Award start date: 01 Apr 2019
Award duration: 3 years (36 months)

Stem cell transplants are valuable treatments for people with blood cancer, providing an entirely new, healthy blood system from a donor that can kill off the blood cancer cells. But sometimes the donor cells can also start attacking healthy tissues. This is called graft-versus-host disease (GvHD), and causes damage to the body’s organs, including the liver and skin. GvHD develops within two weeks of a stem cell transplant, but we currently don’t know what happens in the body during this time.

A previous Bloodwise-funded research project led by Professor Moss has shown two types of immune cell called NK and T cells play an important role in the first two weeks. The numbers of these cells can help predict if GvHD will develop, or if the blood cancer will return after transplant.

The team are now carrying out a detailed study of donor blood cells two weeks after they have been transplanted. They are looking for cells that can kill blood cancer cells and want to find a way to use these if the initial stem cell transplant doesn’t work. They are also looking at donor blood cells that have caused GvHD in the skin to find out how tissue damage develops. Eventually, they plan to develop a ‘risk score’ that will predict the likelihood of GvHD for individual stem cell transplants, which will help medical professionals decide the best course of treatment for each person.