New drug halves transplant's deadly side-effect

Washington, Dec 10 (IANS) A new drug halves the risk of serious and often deadly side-effect of lifesaving bone marrow transplant treatments, according to a new finding.

The study combined vorinostat with standard drugs given after transplant, bringing down the percentage of patients developing graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) to 21, compared to 42 percent of patients who did with standard medications alone.

"GVHD is the most serious complication from transplant that limits our ability to offer it more broadly. Current prevention strategies have remained mostly unchanged over the past 20 years," says study co-author Sung Choi, assistant professor of paediatrics at the University of Michigan Medical School.

GVHD is characterized by the transplanted stem cells producing immune cells that attack the recipient's body. The new immune cells treat the patient's normal cells as foreign invaders and begin to damage the patient's organs, according to a Michigan statement.

Vorinostat is currently approved by the US Food and Drug Administration to treat certain types of cancer. But Michgian researchers, led by senior study author Pavan Reddy, found in lab studies that the drug had anti-inflammatory effects as well.

Participants were older adults undergoing a reduced-intensity bone marrow transplant with cells donated from a relative. They received standard drug used post transplant to prevent GVHD. They also received vorinostat as a pill.

Researchers found vorinostat was safe and tolerable with manageable side-effects. Besides, rates of patient death and cancer relapse among the study participants were similar to historical averages. The results mirror those found in the laboratory using mice.

These findings were presented on Sunday at the 54th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Hematology.

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