A new blood testing technique could help predict how well a patient will perform after having a bone marrow transplant. 

Bone marrow transplants involve the replacement of a patient’s stem cells with a donor’s and are a fairly common procedure for those with specific types of blood cancer.

Unfortunately, around half of those that receive a bone marrow transplant develop a condition called graft-versus-host-disease (GVHD). The condition is caused by stem cells present in the donor’s bone marrow detecting the recipient’s body as foreign resulting in the stem cells attacking it. The condition is often fatal.

Developed by researchers from 11 different cancer centres in Europe and the US, the blood test – called ‘MAGIC’ (Mount Sinai Active GHVD International Consortium) – searches for two distinct molecules in blood samples: ST2 and REG3a.

By measuring these two molecules one week after a transplant procedure, the test could predict the chances of a high-risk complication following a bone marrow transplant.

a Cancer Research UK expert on stem cell transplants, said: “This study reveals that a blood test performed just one week following a bone marrow transplant accurately identifies which patients are at the greatest risk of this life-threatening condition,” said Professor Ronjon Chakraverty of Cancer Research UK. “Importantly, the test worked in different hospitals and in different groups of patients in the US and Europe, suggesting that it could be used widely. Tests such as this could spot patients who are most at risk, and make sure they get special targeted treatment before GVHD develops.”

The study results are now being investigated by researchers at Mount Sinai to design clinical trials investigating the earlier use of immunotherapy drugs commonly used in GVHD and their possible impact on patient outlook following a high-risk MAGIC test result.