Allogeneic bone marrow transplant has the potential to offer patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) a cure. There have been many improvements to transplants to make the procedure safer, better tolerated and more successful. These improvements include reduced-intensity conditioning regimens before transplant and newer graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) prevention. These improvements have made it to where almost every patient now has access to a donor. While the best outcomes often come from a matched donor, only 30% of people have a matched donor in their family. Without a match, doctors will then focus on finding a half-matched donor. This is called a haploidentical transplant, and can still be highly successful.
Half-matched donors may be siblings, parents, children, cousins, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, or grandchildren. A patient may end up with several family members who qualify to be a donor, and then the question becomes: who would make the best donor? After analyzing years of transplant data, researchers now have a good idea of how to pick the donor that will provide the patient with the most successful outcomes.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins analyzed data from 2002 to 2017 on 889 adult patients who underwent haploidentical alloBMT that was followed by cyclophosphamide, an anti-GVHD medication. They followed these patients for an average of 2.5 years after their transplant. They found that younger donors appear to be associated with improved outcomes for the patient. The use of older donors was associated with poorer overall survival and a higher likelihood of disease progression. They also found that older donors were associated with higher rates of acute GVHD for the patient. Because of these findings, the transplant team at Johns Hopkins now prioritizes the choice of the youngest adult-sized donor where feasible and medically appropriate when there are multiple half-matched donors to choose from. They state that their data strongly suggest that the youngest available adult-sized donors, usually a young sibling or even a second-degree relative (grandchild, niece, or nephew), should be preferred when multiple half-matched donors are available.
Turns out, for half-matched allogeneic bone marrow transplant recipients, the old saying of “age ain’t nothing but a number” doesn’t apply this time. Age actually matters! According to the researchers, other than the degree of HLA match, donor age emerges as the most important donor characteristic affecting transplant outcomes in the Johns Hopkins study and in many others.
about the author
Katie joined the HealthTree Foundation as the Community Director for AML in 2021. She is a registered dietitian who previously worked at the VA hospital in Dallas, Texas where she coached veterans with blood cancer on how to use nutrition to improve their treatment outcomes and minimize cancer-related side effects. Katie is passionate about health education and patient empowerment. In her spare time, she loves to experiment with new recipes in the kitchen, spend time running outdoors and travel to new places.