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Does our DNA determine how well we respond to stem-cell transplantation?

SEATTLE Do genetic variations in DNA determine the outcome and success in patients who undergo stem-cell transplantation to treat blood cancers and predict complications? The National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute of the National Institutes of Health has awarded a $4.3 million, four-year grant to Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to help find out.

John Hansen, M.D., a member of the Hutchinson Center's Clinical Research Division and medical director of Clinical Immunogenetics at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, will lead the genome-wide association study of all patients who have been treated with an allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplant (HCT) at the Hutchinson Center between 1992 and 2010. Allogeneic stem-cell transplants involve infusing healthy stem cells from the blood or bone marrow of related and unrelated donors into the blood of patients whose blood-cell-producing bone marrow is diseased by leukemia and lymphoma, among other illnesses.

The new study will expand upon earlier research begun in 2006 and will increase the sample size three fold to 5,000 transplants, thus improving the power of identifying the genetic variants associated with HCT outcome.

Among the study's goals are to identify genetic variations among patients that could account for the risk and severity of acute and chronic graft-versus-host disease, organ toxicity, opportunistic infection, relapse and overall survival. Genetic variants associated with HCT outcome will be validated as markers for assessing risk prior to patients receiving transplants and to enhance counseling and treatment planning.

Researchers also will use the results to gain insights into disease processes responsible for treatment complications and the rationale for developing novel targeted therapies for preventing and controlling these complications.

Bone-marrow and stem-cell transplantation was developed at the Hutchinson Center as highly successful treatments for blood cancers and some autoimmune diseases. Researchers at the Hutchinson Center and its clinical partner, SCCA, have performed more transplants cumulatively over the years than any other center in the world. In 2010, about 60,000 people worldwide underwent bone- or stem-cell transplants, and by the end of 2011 it is expected that about 1 million people worldwide will have been treated by this life-saving therapy, which was pioneered by the Hutchinson Center's E. Donnall Thomas, M.D., who in 1990 received the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for this advance.


Contact: Dean Forbes
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

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