No standard treatment is available for relapse of acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) after allogeneic stem cell transplantation (alloSCT). Efficacy of donor lymphocyte transfusion (DLT) was limited, at least in part, by the rapid pace of the disease, overwhelming any allogeneic immune response. However, induction chemotherapy before DLT was complicated by severe toxicity. Based on a pilot trial conducted in Munich, a prospective, multicenter phase II trial for relapsed AML and MDS after alloSCT was initiated in 2000 by the German transplant cooperative group. The study evaluated the sequence of low-dose(ld)AraC for leukemic control (intensive chemotherapy for progressive disease only), transfusion of donor PBSC without immunosuppression as adoptive immunotherapy, and systemic application of GM-CSF. GM-CSF was included, since in combination with other cytokines, it has been able to improve the antigene presentation capacity of myeloid blasts in vitro. Between 2000 and 2006, 41 patients with hematological relapse of AML or MDS >3 months after alloSCT were included. Median age was 47y, 50% had an unrelated donor. Median remission after SCT was 223d (93–1614), median percentage of BM blasts at relapse was 40%. Median follow up was 28 months. Control of leukemic proliferation by ldAraC was achieved in 61%, allowing outpatient care in the majority of these patients. 39% required intensive chemotherapy. Three patients died from infections before donor cell transfusion (DCT), one patient was not transfused due to progressive leukemia. Median time from relapse to DCT was 52 days. 25/34 evaluable patients were found to be free of blasts in BM at d35 after PBSC and were considered initial responders. In an intent-to-treat analysis, overall survival (OS) of the entire cohort at 1 and 2 years from relapse was 41% and 32%. Among initial responders, 1y- and 2y-OS was 68% and 49%. A remission >6months after alloSCT, and control of leukemia by ldAraC prior to DCT were associated with better outcome. At last follow up, 8 patiens were in continous CR, 2 were alive with second relapse, 18 had died from leukemia, and 13 had died in remission or aplasia. In conclusion, ldAraC seems to be effective for initial control of leukemic proliferation in relapsed AML and MDS after alloSCT. A longer duration of post-transplant remission and response to ldAraC may identify patients who will benefit from adoptive immunotherapy. On an intend-to-treat-basis, the overall results of our trial compare favorably to other published strategies; nevertheless, outcome is still unsatisfying and warrants further investigation.

Author notes

Disclosure: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.