MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – A researcher at West Virginia University is trying to determine whether a drug commonly prescribed to lower cholesterol can help prevent a serious complication associated with a type of bone marrow transplant used in cancer treatment.

Mehdi Hamadani, M.D., of the Osborn Hematopoietic Malignancy and Transplantation Program at the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center, received a $60,000 grant from the American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation for novel research on atorvastatin, otherwise known as Lipitor, a cholesterol-lowering medicine. He is leading a clinical trial to determine if atorvastatin will prevent acute graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) in patients who’ve undergone matched sibling bone marrow transplantation. 

A bone marrow transplant patient develops GVHD when the donor’s immune cells attack the patient’s tissues and vital organs such as the skin, liver and gastrointestinal tract. The condition can be acute or chronic depending upon how soon it develops after the transplant; it also puts the patient at risk for life-threatening infections.

“At least one out of every three patients who undergo matched sibling stem cell transplantation develops GVHD,” Dr. Hamadani said. “It is the second most common reason patients die after a transplant.”

There are various drugs being used to prevent the condition, but there is no standard method of prevention. 

Hamadani is cautiously optimistic that atorvastatin will improve patient outcomes. Three of the patients enrolled in his research study at WVU are doing well and have had no side effects from the drug. 

“If this phase 2 trial shows that atorvastatin is safe and effective, the next step would be a multi-center phase 3 trial involving hundreds of transplant patients to see how the drug compares to current approaches to prevent GVHD.”

The clinical trial offered at WVU’s Cancer Center is based in part on Hamadani’s earlier research that showed statin drugs, such as atorvastatin, have potential for reducing the incidence of acute GVHD. 

Upon selecting Hamadani as one of five winners of the New Investigator Award, the associate executive director of the American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation (ASBMT) called Hamadani’s research study “outstanding.”

The ASBMT is an international professional association for clinical and laboratory researchers, which strives to promote the advancement of the blood and marrow transplantation field. 

“We are very proud of Dr. Hamadani,” Laura Gibson, Ph.D., deputy director of the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center, said. “The ASBMT is comprised of renowned BMT physicians and basic scientists. To receive an award from this elite group speaks highly of the scientific merit of Mehdi’s research and is characteristic of his significant contributions to the research team at WVU.”

For more information: Amy Johns, HSC News Service, 304-293-7087
ss: 01-25-11