JUN 09, 2016 2:52 PM PDT

Making Bone Marrow Transplants Safer with Antibodies

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

For some patients, bone marrow transplants are one of the few last defenses that could save their lives. But this procedure is extremely dangerous and prone to side-effects that could last a lifetime. Now researchers at the Harvard Medical School have developed a new way to transplant bone marrow that’s safer and more effective. Their work, though only done in mice, give hope that the technology could one day be applied safely to millions of people who are in desperate need of the life-saving procedure.

David Scadden and Rahul PalchaudhuriA bone marrow transplant is a procedure that replaces a patient’s diseased blood stem cells with healthy ones from a matched donor. There are several conditions that warrant a bone marrow transplant. These often involve blood disorders, such as cancer of the blood (leukemia), sickle cell anemia, or thalassemia. In some instances, chemotherapy or radiation treatment can damage the bone marrow, necessitating a transplant.

Before doctors can transplant healthy donor cells into a recipient patient, they must first wipe out the diseased blood cells from the patient’s bone marrow. This requires extremely toxic treatments that increase the risk for complications such as bleeding, infection, and organ damage. As such, finding a safer way to deliver this procedure is critical.

In order to get rid of diseased blood cells safely, researchers at Harvard turned to antibodies, which are inherently specific to their targets. "Instead of using non-targeted drugs that have lots of collateral damage we thought we could take advantage of the precision of the immune system, in particular, antibodies," said David Scadden, Professor of Medicine at Harvard University, and senior study author.

The team armed antibodies with a killing payload that’s specific to a blood marker known as CD45. "Antibodies are remarkably specific in what they target," said Rahul Palchaudhuri, the study’s first author. "We can direct them to CD45, a cell marker which is exclusively expressed in the blood system. That way we avoid toxicities to non-blood tissues."
 

 


In this approach, the antibodies can’t harm the thymus and bone marrow environments, which are crucial nurseries for T cells and innate immune cells. As a result, the body can still defend itself against infections that would otherwise be dangerously fatal if these cells were destroyed.

They tested their procedure in mice, and showed that mice with antibody treatment withstood infection better than mice treated with standard radiation. Antibody treatment also enabled mice to accept a bone marrow transplant, and be cured of their sickle cell anemia condition.

Interestingly, the team reported no severe adverse effects in mice given the antibody treatment, even if transplants didn’t follow. This means that the procedure won’t confine patients to a long, sterile hospital bed while they recover, and that a failed transplant won’t be fatal. But the caveat is that these results have only been observed in animal studies.

"If this approach works in humans, it will really change the conversation that providers have with patients," Scadden said. The procedure would open transplant possibilities especially for those "who have these underlying genetic disorders and for who the new gene-editing and gene therapy techniques are being developed."

Additional sources: Science Daily

Image credit: BD Bolen & Harvard Medical School

 

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
OCT 29, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
Skin Deep: A Novel Test for Parkinson's
OCT 29, 2020
Skin Deep: A Novel Test for Parkinson's
In Parkinson’s disease (PD), there is chronic degeneration of the central nervous system, particularly in the regi ...
OCT 28, 2020
Cancer
Protecting the Head and Neck from Off Target Radiation
OCT 28, 2020
Protecting the Head and Neck from Off Target Radiation
Radiotherapy alone or with chemotherapy is the go-to treatment for head and neck cancers. Unfortunately, head and neck t ...
OCT 29, 2020
Cannabis Sciences
Hemp 10 Years from Now
OCT 29, 2020
Hemp 10 Years from Now
The hemp industry has experienced major growth in recent years, largely due to legalization in many US states. Today, th ...
NOV 16, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
How the CRISPR-based COVID Microlab Can Intercept the Pandemic
NOV 16, 2020
How the CRISPR-based COVID Microlab Can Intercept the Pandemic
The demand for diagnostic technologies to track COVID-19 infections and control community spread of the disease has only ...
JAN 26, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
Why Only Some People With a Rare Mutation Get a Heart Condition
JAN 26, 2021
Why Only Some People With a Rare Mutation Get a Heart Condition
Scientists have found a way to explain why a heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) can be so differen ...
FEB 03, 2021
Clinical & Molecular DX
New Panel of Arthritis Biomarkers Diagnoses Disease With 93.2% Accuracy
FEB 03, 2021
New Panel of Arthritis Biomarkers Diagnoses Disease With 93.2% Accuracy
Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, is a painful and debilitating autoimmune disorder of the joints, particularly those of the ...
Loading Comments...