Bone marrow is a rich source of hematopoietic (blood-forming stem cells). Consequently, blood disorders and cancers are sometimes treated by the administration of donated bone marrow cells. In fact, tens of thousands of bone marrow transplants take place worldwide each year. Unfortunately, graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), a potentially life-threatening complication in which white blood cells from the donor attack the recipient’s tissues, can make this treatment a perilous option.
Luckily, researchers from the University of Michigan and from the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev may have found a way to defeat GVHD. By administering the peptide alpha-1-antitrypsin (AAT), the scientists were able to significantly decrease the mortality rate in mice receiving bone marrow transplants.
Current therapies to prevent GVHD often involve powerful suppression of the immune system, putting the patient at great risk of infection. In contrast, AAT carries no such risk and is already approved for use in humans (though not for GVHD) with minimal side effects. The authors are hoping to begin clinical trials with AAT in human transplant cases.