Scientists at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center measured the level of a protein called tumor necrosis factor, or TNF, seven days after patients received a bone marrow transplant. TNF, a trigger for inflammation, is known to be elevated in people who develop graft vs. host disease, the most common serious side effect of a bone marrow transplant from a donor.

The study looked at 170 patients, 94 of whom went on to develop graft vs. host disease, a condition in which the transplanted immune system attacks the patient’s normal tissue. Those 94 patients had elevated levels of the TNF-receptor protein a week after their transplant – before they showed any symptoms of graft vs. host disease. Researchers also found patients whose TNF level was elevated at seven days had a 20-point lower survival rate: 62 percent were alive after a year, compared to 85 percent of those with a lower TNF.

“This suggests we could target patients to prevent graft vs. host disease based on their post-transplant level of TNF. If we can develop a test that can reliably predict this complication, we can then look at treating it before any symptoms develop. This is one small step in a long road to making transplants safer and more effective,” says study author John Levine, M.D., associate professor of paediatrics and internal medicine at the U-M Medical School.; Source: University of Michigan Health System