Using a new technique to identify bone marrow donors who make the most potent cancer-fighting immune cells, the risk of death following bone marrow transplantation can be reduced about 60 percent, finds researchers. The research was led by St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. The findings appear in the September 16 online issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
The research builds on an earlier St. Jude discovery that specialized immune cells called natural killer (NK) cells dispatched cancer cells more efficiently when the NK cells carried a particular version of a KIR protein on their surface. KIR is short for killer-cell immunoglobulin-like receptor. KIR proteins regulate NK cells.
For this study, researchers reviewed the outcomes of the 313 bone marrow transplants performed at St. Jude during the decade ending in January 2010. Investigators found that patients were far more likely to have survived the transplant and far less likely to have their disease progress if their new bone marrow came from donors whose NK cells included the same version of the protein, rather than the alternative form.