About half of patients with a hematologic cancer develop resistance to chemotherapy. For these patients, the usual treatment is to transplant bone marrow cells from a healthy donor. This is known as immunotherapy because immune cells from the donor target tumor cells in the recipient. Unfortunately, there are two problems with this treatment: the effectiveness of the transplanted cells varies widely; and there is the chance of rejection by the patient. In some cases, the donor cells actually attack the patient―something known as “graft versus host disease” (GVHD).
Drs. Claude Perreault, Denis-Claude Roy and team are developing a genetic test that will predict GVHD, leading to safer use of bone marrow transplants. This will also improve immunotherapy by targeting the right immune cells to the right tumor cells, leading to more effective treatment.