Biomarker could detect graft-versus-host disease

A team led by researchers from the University of Michigan Health System has identified a biomarker that indicates whether a cancer patient who's received a hematopoietic stem cell transplant is suffering from graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), according to a press release.

Patients with leukemia, lymphoma and other blood disorders may need to received a bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cell transplant as part of their treatment. Though donors are carefully matched to recipients, in some cases the host body rejects the new tissue or blood, with particular complications in the gastrointestinal tract. However, it's difficult for physicians to know whether a patients is suffering from GVHD or other aliments like infections or drug side effects without an invasive biopsy.

“We believe we’ve found a reliable biomarker in the patients’ blood that is specific to graft-versus-host disease and therefore can help us to rapidly identify patients for whom standard treatment is likely to be insufficient,” said co-lead author James Ferrara in a release. The marker is known as regenerating islet-derived 3-alpha (REG3-alpha). “This marker can also tell us whether a patient is likely to respond to therapy and may lead to an entirely new risk assessment for the disease," Ferrara added.

The team notes that patients will still need a biopsy to conclusively determine GVHD, but that the biomarker could help physicians decide on the best course of treatment for their patients. Clinical testing of the marker will begin in 2012.

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