Blood and marrow transplantation is an important therapy for many types of cancer. But it can also cause a serious and sometimes fatal complication called graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), which occurs when the immune system doesn’t recognize and rejects donor cells.
Researchers at the U are dedicated to overcoming this obstacle and have developed a new therapy to boost the immune system after transplantation with the ultimate goal of preventing GVHD.
Their approach gives patients a large dose of cells called Tregs, which are derived from donated umbilical cord blood and supercharge the immune system. The U was the first to test this therapy in clinical trials and today that work continues with support from Minnesota Masonic Charities.
With Masonic support, Keli Hippen, Ph.D., part of the U’s pediatrics faculty, is working to make Treg therapy even more effective. Hippen’s research involves controlling the expression of certain genes so that Tregs are more likely to proliferate and survive.
His team has identified and found ways to interfere with specific molecules that hamper the success of Tregs. And today, they are working to incorporate this new therapeutic approach into clinical trials underway at the U that continue to test Treg therapy.
“As an investigator with a relatively small lab, I would not have been able to start this project without funding from the Masons. If successful, our Treg therapy could be used to greatly improve the overall success of blood and marrow transplants both for people with cancer and a variety of autoimmune disorders.”