When patients have certain types of leukemia, they can be cured if they receive a bone marrow transplant from a healthy donor. The immune cells from the donated bone marrow will then attack the cancer cells vigorously, and the leukemia will slip into remission.
Such a strategy is called an “allogeneic bone marrow transplant,” and it is an effective way to treat some types of leukemia. However, this technique is risky and it usually involves some patient-related mortality. The problem is getting the transplanted cells to survive.
A new study from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas has examined over eighty patients who have received allogeneic bone marrow grafts for chronic myelomonocytic leukemia (CMML). Stefan O. Ciurea and his colleagues have identified a new pre-treatment that seems to decrease the degree of tumor relapse. Their study was published in the Biology of Blood and Bone Marrow Transplantation.
83 consecutive patients with some form of CMML received an allogeneic bone marrow transplants between April 1991 and December 2013 were examined in detail. They asked if pre-treatment of the bone marrow stem cells with chemicals called “hypomethylating agents” before transplant improved progression-free survival.
Seventy-eight patients received “induction treatment” before transplant, 37 received hypomethylating agents and 41 received cytotoxic chemotherapy. Patients treated with a hypomethylating agent had a significantly lower cumulative incidence of relapse at 3 years post-transplant (22%) than those treated with other agents (35%; p=0.03). However, the transplant-related mortality 1 year post-transplant did not significantly differ between these groups (27% and 30%, respectively; p=0.84). The lower relapse rate resulted in a significantly higher 3-year progression-free survival rate in patients treated with a hypomethylating agent (43%) than in those treated with other agents (27%; p=0.04).
This study supports the use of hypomethylating agents before allogeneic stem cell transplantation for patients with CMML to achieve remission and improve progression-free survival of patients. Of course future studies are needed to confirm these findings, but they suggest that pretreating bone marrow stem cells with hypomethylating agents prior to transplanting them will beef the cells up and help them life longer to fight tumors.