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Graft v Host disease

Katie Lineburg

National Research Program – PhD Scholarship

Project summary

Katie Lineburg undertook her PhD “Identifying the cells and pathways that contribute to chronic graft-versus-host disease” at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute from 2014-2016.

Following a stem cell transplant, two of the major causes of patient illness and death are graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) and graft failure/rejection.

GVHD occurs in the majority of stem cell transplant patients, with up to 40 per cent of cases leading to death. GVHD, is triggered when the transplanted donor immune cells begin attacking the recipient’s organ tissues.

GVHD can occur early (acute) or late (chronic) post-transplant. During chronic GVHD (cGVHD), ongoing damage from these attacks causes fibrosis (similar to scar tissue) of the skin and internal organs that resembles some autoimmune diseases. Fibrosis leads to a build up of connective tissue that eventually destroys the normal tissue and causes internal organ failure.

To improve transplant outcomes and help better understand GVHD, Katie Lineburg is investigating the cellular processes and immune cells involved in driving this disease. Of particular interest are the signalling molecules, called cytokines, and the different ways these proteins contribute toward establishing either protective cell populations or those that contribute toward the tissue damage that characterizes GVHD.

In addition, Katie’s research involves investigating the cell survival mechanisms that appear to be highly important for maintaining immune cells in the bone marrow environment following transplantation. Disruption of this environment leads to graft failure and compromises the new immune system.

“I hope to define the proteins that regulate the cellular processes involved in the complications of stem cell transplantation” said Katie.

“This information would allow us to develop novel therapeutics to improve transplant outcome and broaden its clinical application.”