Biomarkers for Graft-Versus-Host Disease | Part 1

What is a biomarker? Sophie Paczesny, M.D., Ph.D., a professor at the Hollings Cancer Center at the Medical University of South Carolina and an internationally recognized expert on biomarkers for graft-versus-host disease (GvHD), explains.

First of four parts

Graft-versus-host disease (GvHD) is a side effect of allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation used to treat many types of blood cancers (leukemia, multiple myeloma) and other conditions related to the blood and the blood marrow. In simplified terms, GvHD occurs when the immune cells in the transplant (“the graft”) turn on and attack the cells of the recipient (“the host.”)

Allogeneic means the cells came from a donor, often a close relation. Autologous allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation — commonly referred to as bone marrow transplants or stem cell transplants — come from patients’ themselves.

GvHD is a recognized side effect, and researchers have made strides in understanding its causes and pathologic processes. Still, treating and managing GvHD remains a maze of choices.

In a review article published in Transplantation and Cellular Therapy in July, corresponding author Sophie Paczesny, M.D., Ph.D., and her colleagues explain how biomarkers could help patients and clinicians navigate that maze and possibly lead to treatment choices that would mean fewer side effects and better outcomes. Paczesny, a professor and chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Hollings Cancer Center at the Medical of University of South Carolina, is an expert on hematopoietic cell transplantation, GvHD and biomarkers.

In this segment, Paczesny sets the table for a longer discussion with an introductory explanation of biomarkers. She stresses that it is an objective measurement that can aid diagnosis and prognosis. Measurement of substances in the blood are often involved, partly because it is relatively easy to get a sample of blood to test.