Graft vs host? Target the aurora


Graft-vs-host disease is a common and potentially deadly complication following bone marrow transplants, in which immune cells from the donated bone marrow attack the recipient’s body.

Winship Cancer Institute’s Ned Waller and researchers from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Yerkes National Primate Research Center were part of a recent Science Translational Medicine paper that draws a bright red circle around aurora kinase A as a likely drug target in graft-vs-host disease.

Aurora kinases are enzymes that control mitosis, the process of cell division, and were first discovered in the 1990s in yeast, flies and frogs. Now drugs that inhibit aurora kinase A are in clinical trials for several types of cancer, and clinicans are planning to examine whether the same type of drugs could help with graft-vs-host disease.

Leslie Kean, a pediatric cancer specialist at Seattle Children’s who was at Emory until 2013, is the senior author of the STM paper. Seattle Childrens’ press release says that Kean wears a bracelet around her badge from a pediatric patient cured of leukemia one year ago, but who is still in the hospital due to complications from graft-vs-host.

The STM paper starts with a non-human primate model of graft-vs-host, and examines gene expression patterns in immune cells after transplant: a feast for immunologists. On top of that, aurora kinase A was validated as a target in samples from human transplant patients and in experiments with mice.

“This study represents the very best of team science: hypothesis-driven, collaborative across multiple institutions, and immediately relevant to clinical patient care,” Waller says. “I believe that publication of this paper will rapidly lead to new clinical trials of Aurora kinase inhibitors in patients with blood cell cancers undergoing bone marrow transplantation.”

Note: the paper appeared online just before Thanksgiving. Please also see this post on a collaboration involving Kean and Waller looking at how CMV (cytomegalovirus) distorts the immune system after bone marrow transplant.

Posted on by Quinn Eastman in Cancer, Immunology Leave a comment

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Quinn Eastman

Science Writer, Research Communications 404-727-7829 Office

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