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Skin microbiome changes observed in patients with stem cell transplants

Photo by Nissim Benvenisty via Wikimedia Commons

A study involving 50 patients with leukemia who underwent stem cell transplants for the treatment of leukemia indicates a subset of patients who ultimately developed graft vs. host disease (GVHD) showed a significant decrease in skin bacteria.

This finding is further evidence of the importance of monitoring the skin microbiome and may help clinicians detect GVHD at an earlier stage, researchers from the Medical University of Vienna reported in Nature Leukemia. Earlier research had shown that the composition of the gut microbiome influenced the clinical course after stem cell transplantation.

The drastic decrease in skin bacteria caused increased colonization of staphylococci that could lead to serious infections.

"The reduction in proliferation was particularly pronounced in severe cases of GVHD—even before symptoms appeared," said study leader Dr. Georg Stary, of Vienna General Hospital, in a press release. He noted the GVHD complication almost always affects the skin.

GVHD occurs in approximately 30% of patients after sibling donations and in approximately 70% of patients after donations from unrelated donors.

"Follow-up studies will now show whether the change in the skin microbiome may contribute to the development of GVHD and whether new therapeutic approaches can be identified from the knowledge gained," said Dr. Stary, who also works at the CeMM Research Centre for Molecular Medicine at the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Rare and Undiagnosed Diseases.

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