New Mater research could improve bone marrow transplants

Monday 09 July 2018

A group of Mater researchers have discovered a key part to the bone marrow regeneration process which has the potential to improve outcomes for patients who require bone marrow transplants.

A paper, highlighting that a small pool of resident macrophages that survive the pre-transplantation process could assist the new bone marrow received in a transplant, has been published in the American Society of Haematology’s journal, called Blood

Macrophages are a type of white blood cell that are best known for their ability to engulf and destroy bacteria and alert the other components of the immune system to respond appropriately to infection.

Mater Research Bones and Immunology Group Leader, Associate Professor Allison Pettit, said the significant discovery had great promise towards improving the success of bone marrow transplants, with further research to be undertaken.

“When a patient undergoes a bone marrow transplant their blood and bone marrow cells are severely affected.

“Some macrophages in the bone marrow survive this nasty treatment, and then surprisingly expand during the transplant acceptance process and assist recovery of the bone marrow by allowing the donated blood stem cells to function normally.

“We found that if these resilient macrophages assist the damaged marrow to recover and become a suitable soil for seeding of donated blood stem cells, then they play a critical role in a patient’s ability to accept the bone marrow transplant.

“The next step of the research is to determine what can be done to improve the role of these macrophages so that we can increase the number of successful bone marrow transplants, as well as reduce the risks associated with them.”

The findings also have potential applications for making cancer treatment safer for patients.

A/Prof Pettit said there was potential that these macrophages could support patients who undergo high doses of chemotherapy and radiation.

“Bone marrow never truly recovers from high doses of chemotherapy.  These macrophages could also protect the bone marrow from damage and thereby lower the severity of side-affects that come from it—making chemotherapy safer,” she said.

“We are looking at further research in this area to prove whether these resident macrophages are the last line of defence against bone marrow damaging agents and without them, the bone marrow—which is necessary for sustaining life—can’t resist or recover.”

The paper was co-authored by a group of Mater researchers including Mater Foundation Research Fellow Professor David Hume, Associate Professor Ingrid Winkler and Professor Jean-Pierre Levesque.

A/Prof Pettit said this project was a great example of successful collaboration between teams at Mater Research that was mutually beneficial.

“It’s an honour for the whole team that this research has been acknowledged in such a prestigious, international journal,” she said.