New DFG consortium on hematopoietic cell transplantation

The DFG approves the new research consortium SFB TRR221, which focusses on harnessing anti-leukemia mechanisms without the risk of adverse immune reactions.
Graft-versus-Leukemia, Graft-versus-Host disease, Andreas Beilhack, GvHD laboratory, Würzburg University Hospital, Germany, Stanford University

The new DFG  consortium focuses on the modulation of transplant-versus-host and transplant-against-leukemia immune reactions.

Allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation is the only curative treatment option for many patients with leukemia and lymphoma. Their effectiveness is based on the so-called graft-versus-leukemia (GvL) effect: The transplanted immune cells of the donor form a new functional immune system in the patient to fight the tumor cells. However, the effect is not sufficient in all patients to prevent the return of leukemia or lymphoma. Furthermore, there is often an undesirable effect in which the immune cells of the donor attack healthy tissue of the patient, termed graft-versus-host disease (GvHD). Within the first five years after transplant, approximately 60 percent of patients die as a result of GvHD or the return of the disease.

A newly formed research consortium investigates how desired GvL responses can be separated from unwanted GvH reactions. The German Research Foundation (DFG) will fund the new SFB Transregio TRR221 consortium on the “Modulation of transplant-versus-host and transplant-against-leukemia immune reactions after allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation.” Under the leadership of Prof. Wolfgang Herr, three Bavarian universities – Erlangen, Regensburg and Würzburg will investigate the immunological mechanisms of blood stem cell transplantation. The teams of our consortium will address the central problems and deficits of allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. Consequently we aim to develop immunomodulatory strategies for the specific enhancement of the GvL effect and for the selective attenuation of GvHD. This collective gain of knowledge will result in new treatment concepts. These will be tested outside the DFG TRR221 in clinical studies with the aim of reducing the incidence of morbidity and mortality of allogenic blood stem cell transplantation by promoting the highly effective GvL immune response without associated GvHD. The consortium is planned to operate for 12 years. On November 24, 2017, after a thorough two-step evaluation process, the DFG approved funding for an initial phase of four years.