The study, the first to test this treatment in people, combined the drug vorinostat (see structure) with standard medications given after transplant, resulting in 22 percent of patients developing graft-vs.-host disease compared to 42 percent of patients who typically develop this condition with standard medications alone. Results of the study appear in The Lancet Oncology.
"Graft-vs.-host disease is the most serious complication from transplant that limits our ability to offer it more broadly. Current prevention strategies have remained mostly unchanged over the past 20 years. This study has us cautiously excited that there may be a potential new way to prevent this condition," says lead study author Sung Choi, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at the U-M Medical School.
Vorinostat is currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat certain types of cancer. But U-M researchers, led by senior study author Pavan Reddy, M.D., found in laboratory studies that the drug had anti-inflammatory effects as well -- which they hypothesized could be useful in preventing graft-vs.-host disease, or GVHD, a condition in which the new donor cells begin attacking other cells in the patient's body.
The study enrolled 61 older adults from the University of Michigan and Washington University in St. Louis who were undergoing a reduced-intensity bone marrow transplant with cells donated from a relative. Patients received standard medication used after a transplant to prevent GVHD. They also received vorinostat, which is given as a pill taken orally. Fifty of the 61 participants completed the full 21-day course of vorinostat.