Statins may help protect stem cell transplant patients from GVHD

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Cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins are among the most prescribed medicines in the U.S. Now a new study by researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center indicates that statins may protect stem cell transplant patients from one of the most serious complications of the life-saving cancer therapy: graft-versus-host disease, or GVHD. The findings are reported in the Nov. 4 first edition of the journal Blood.

In a retrospective study of 567 patients who underwent hematopoietic cell transplantation from matched sibling donors between 2001 and 2007, patients whose donors had been taking statins at the time of stem cell donation experienced no severe acute GVHD. About 15 percent of the stem cell donors in the study were taking statins at the time of transplant.
Normally, between 10 percent and 15 percent of transplant patients would be expected to develop severe acute GVHD, according to the study's senior author Marco Mielcarek, M.D., an assistant member of the Hutchinson Center's Clinical Research Division.

No such protection from severe acute GVHD was observed if only the patient was taking a statin, according to the study. There was some indication that protection against severe GVHD was even stronger when both patient and donor had been on statin medications, however the number of patients in this group was too small to be statistically significant.

The researchers also found that only those transplant patients with statin-treated donors who received cyclosporine-based immunosuppression therapy after transplantation were protected from severe GVHD. Patients with statin-treated donors who received a similar drug, tacrolimus, did not experience the same GVHD-protection. The study also found that the greatest statin protection occurred against severe GVHD of the gastrointestinal tract.

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