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The Potential of Potato Starch in Preventing Graft versus Host Disease

The Potential of Potato Starch in Preventing Graft versus Host Disease
Potato starch may prevent Graft versus Host Disease (GVHD) in stem cell transplants. Researchers at U-M explore its potential in a phase II trial.

Have you ever wondered how a simple food supplement could revolutionize medical treatments? In the realm of stem cell transplants, a groundbreaking discovery is unfolding.

Researchers at the University of Michigan Health Rogel Cancer Center have embarked on a journey to mitigate a critical risk associated with stem cell transplants: Graft versus Host Disease (GVHD).

But what is GVHD, and why is it a concern in stem cell transplant procedures?

GVHD occurs when a patient receives a stem cell transplant, introducing a new immune system from the donor. Ideally, this new immune system combats cancer cells and other foreign bodies. However, complications arise when the donor immune cells view the patient’s body as an alien entity, leading to an attack on the patient's organs and tissues.

This condition is not a rarity. Up to half of the patients undergoing stem cell transplants from donor blood or bone marrow develop GVHD. The effects range from mild discomfort to severe, life-threatening conditions.

In the United States alone, approximately 9,000 of the 18,000 patients diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses, including blood cancers, undergo these transplants annually.

The primary method to prevent and treat GVHD involves using potent medications to suppress the immune system. However, this approach is a double-edged sword, as it increases the risk of severe infections. The quest to find a safer, more effective treatment for GVHD is thus a critical area of medical research.

Previous studies have indicated a link between the intestinal bacteria and the onset of GVHD. The composition and products of these gut microbes seem to play a pivotal role in whether GVHD occurs post-transplant.

Enter the humble potato starch, an everyday food supplement. Researchers discovered that potato starch could alter the intestinal bacteria's products in a way that might prevent GVHD.

In a small-scale study involving ten patients who underwent stem cell transplants, those given potato starch showed promising changes in their gut microbiome.

Dr. Mary Riwes, D.O., highlights the significance of this finding. She points out the potential of a simple, low-cost approach to mitigating GVHD, a major barrier in stem cell transplant success. However, she also emphasizes the need for further research.

The next step involves a more extensive phase II clinical trial. Sixty patients, aged ten years or older, undergoing blood or bone marrow stem cell transplants, will be randomized to receive either potato starch or a placebo. This trial aims to establish if potato starch can effectively prevent GVHD while maintaining the usual medications for its prevention.

The journey of medical innovation often finds hope in the most unexpected places. The possibility that potato starch, a common food supplement, could play a crucial role in preventing GVHD in stem cell transplant patients is a testament to this.

As research continues, there is cautious optimism that this approach could become a game-changer in treating one of the most significant complications of stem cell transplants.


Key Takeaway Points:

  • GVHD Risk in Stem Cell Transplants: Up to 50% of patients receiving donor stem cell transplants develop GVHD, which can range from mild to life-threatening.

  • Current Treatment Challenges: Current treatments focus on immune system suppression, leading to increased infection risks.

  • Role of Intestinal Bacteria: Prior research indicates a link between gut microbiota and GVHD occurrence.

  • Potato Starch Promise: Early research suggests potato starch can modify gut bacteria to potentially prevent GVHD.

  • Ongoing Research: A phase II clinical trial is underway to more conclusively determine the effectiveness of potato starch in preventing GVHD.


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