Graft v Host disease
National Research Program – PhD Scholarship
Supported by the Leukaemia Foundation of Queensland
Chief investigator: Ms Katie Lineburg
Institute: QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute
Project title: Identifying the cells and pathways that contribute to chronic graft-versus-host disease
Disease focus: Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD)
Annual funding: $40,000
Funding period: January 2014 to December 2016
Total funding: $120,000
Following a stem cell transplant, two of the major causes of patient illness and death are graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) and graft failure/rejection.
GVHD occurs in the majority of stem cell transplant patients, with up to 40 per cent of cases leading to death. GVHD, is triggered when the transplanted donor immune cells begin attacking the recipient’s organ tissues.
GVHD can occur early (acute) or late (chronic) post-transplant. During chronic GVHD (cGVHD), ongoing damage from these attacks causes fibrosis (similar to scar tissue) of the skin and internal organs that resembles some autoimmune diseases. Fibrosis leads to a build up of connective tissue that eventually destroys the normal tissue and causes internal organ failure.
To improve transplant outcomes and help better understand GVHD, Katie Lineburg is investigating the cellular processes and immune cells involved in driving this disease. Of particular interest are the signalling molecules, called cytokines, and the different ways these proteins contribute toward establishing either protective cell populations or those that contribute toward the tissue damage that characterizes GVHD.
In addition, Katie’s research involves investigating the cell survival mechanisms that appear to be highly important for maintaining immune cells in the bone marrow environment following transplantation. Disruption of this environment leads to graft failure and compromises the new immune system.
“I hope to define the proteins that regulate the cellular processes involved in the complications of stem cell transplantation” said Katie.
“This information would allow us to develop novel therapeutics to improve transplant outcome and broaden its clinical application.”
Since 2005, the Leukaemia Foundation has awarded more than $1.1 million to progress research into the causes and better treatments for GVHD. Several of these research projects were conducted at QIMR in the laboratories of Katie’s two supervisors, Dr Kelli MacDonald and Professor Geoff Hill.