A common treatment for blood cancers, such as leukemia, is to replace damaged, cancerous bone marrow with donated healthy marrow. Marrow is the flexible tissue in your bones that contains stem cells that give rise to all the blood and immune cells in the body. When marrow comes from a donor, the donor’s and the recipient’s blood and tissue types must directly match. If not, then the new marrow may identify the patient’s tissues as foreign, and the white blood cells will attack the patient, causing graft-versus-host disease (GVHD).
Recently, researchers at University of Florida Health discovered that the myxoma virus (MYXV), found in rabbits, appears to halt GVHD while killing certain cancer cells. This may be especially helpful for patients who can only find partially matched bone marrow donors and have an 80% risk of GVHD. MYXV attaches to the donor’s T cells, which are white blood cells in the immune system, and stops the T cells from attacking the recipient’s tissue. MYXV can also infiltrate and kill cancer cells when the MYXV-laden T cells enter the patient’s body.
However, because only 8 donors were tested, more research will need to be done to see if MYXV stimulates a full or partial response against GVHD. The markers used to examine the effect of MYXV on GVHD were very broad. Despite these criticisms, the paper does provide extremely convincing data about the MYXV-infected T cells’ capacity to kill residual cancer cells, which is a very promising development.
Aknowledgements: Many thanks to Lindsay Theodore, a graduate student in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences program at Harvard University, for providing her expertise and insight into the topic.
Managing Correspondent: Haley Manchester
Media Coverage: Rabbit virus improves bone marrow transplants, kills some cancer cells – News, University of Florida Health