German company Cytolon is set to launch an analysis platform for transplant centers that has been based on research carried out by the University Medical Center (UMC) Utrecht. The platform ensures a better immunological match between stem cell donors and recipients, which will make more leukemia patients eligible for stem cell therapy without increased risk of complications.

The UMC Utrecht and Cytolon have concluded a licensing agreement for the immunological algorithm PIRCHE (Predicted Indirectly ReCognized HLA Epitopes), which improves the selection of suitable donors for stem cell procedures. Using the algorithm developed by the UMC Utrecht, Cytolon designed an analysis platform that is expected to be ready by the end of the year.

Selection of suitable stem cell donors

Donors and leukemia patients undergoing stem cell therapy are matched on the basis of so-called HLA proteins. HLA proteins play a key role in the immune system, because they help determine the difference between cells that are endogenous and those that are exogenous. In approximately 30 to 40 percent of cases, there are no suitable stem cells with matching HLA proteins. If the HLA proteins of the donor and the recipient do not match, the immune cells from the stem cell transplant may view the organs and tissue of the recipient as exogenous and attack and damage them.

Patented algorithm

Researchers at the UMC Utrecht have found a solution for this. Based on research, they developed an algorithm that analyses the immune system at a deeper level to establish whether the stem cell donor and the patient match. UMC Utrecht Holding BV has submitted a patent application for this algorithm. A mismatch based on HLA proteins does not necessarily mean that a stem cell procedure will fail, as certain mismatches appear to have no immunological effect.

In over 70 percent of cases, this program allows physicians to find a donor who may not be a perfect match but who is just as safe. “As such, the risk of complications and death decreases significantly for these patients,” says immunologist dr. Eric Spierings. “Our study has shown that the life expectancy of these patients is just as high as when there is a perfect stem cells match.”

Especially useful in leukemia patients

The platform is particularly helpful in leukemia patients. These patients often need to undergo stem cell therapy ("bone marrow transplant") as part of their treatment. Donor stem cells then replace the bone marrow that has been destroyed by radiotherapy or chemotherapy. To prevent the new stem cells from attacking the patient's body, the patient only receives stem cells if the donor's stem cells match immunologically.

The idea behind PIRCHE comes from Dr. Eric Spierings , of the UMC Utrecht Laboratory for Translational Immunology. For this study, he has been working in close collaboration with the UMC Utrecht Hematology department and the Wilhelmina Children's Hospital.