A medication used to treat joint and skin conditions might also help people whose only hope of surviving cancer is receiving stem cells from a donor, according to research by a University of British Columbia scientist.

Transplants of blood stem cells, which can differentiate into all types of blood cells, can be a cure for life-threatening blood cancers like leukemia or lymphoma. But the treatment is often not pursued, because typical donations a often from umbilical cord blood a are unlikely to take root in a patienta s bone marrow and grow into a self-sustaining, blood-forming system.

Researchers at UBC and the University of Toronto discovered one of the reasons why: Once transplanted, some of the differentiated cells have a self-destructive tendency to produce tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-a), a protein that cells deploy against infection, but which is sometimes overproduced, killing healthy cells.

That finding led Peter Zandstra, Director of UBCa s new School of Biomedical Engineering and UBCa s Michael Smith Laboratories, to explore whether one of several existing drugs that block TNF-a would allow human blood stem cells to thrive in a new host a in this case, mice with genetically-weakened immune systems.

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