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Grant from NIH funds study on chronic graft-versus-host disease

Bruce Blazar, M.D.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a five-year, $9.5 million grant to Bruce Blazar, M.D., of the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota, and two researchers with Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to further their research on chronic graft-versus-host disease (GVHD).

GVHD can occur after a patient undergoes a stem cell transplant for treating blood cancers including leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma. The transplanted donor cells can perceive the recipient’s body as “foreign” and attack the recipient’s organs and tissue.

The disease can be either acute, starting within three months of a patient’s transplant, or chronic, beginning more than three months after transplant and potentially lasting for years.

The group’s previous work resulted in effective new ways of controlling acute GVHD; however, chronic GVHD remains a problem.

“Over the next five years, our goals will include trying to better understand the biology of chronic GVHD, identify the potential for GVHD in patients undergoing stem cell transplant, and begin clinical trials to test new therapy approaches that can prevent or better treat GVHD in stem cell transplant patients,” says Blazar, a Regents Professor and leading scientist in the Masonic Cancer Center’s Transplant Biology and Therapy Research Program.

Rates of GVHD vary from between 30 to 40 percent among related donors and recipients and twice that for unrelated donor-recipient pairs, according to the NIH. People with GVHD are very vulnerable to infections and can experience other symptoms ranging from mild rashes and diarrhea to life-threatening conditions.

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