Background: Myeloablative hematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT) provides a cure for children with hemoglobinopathies, but transplant related early and late morbidity remains a challenge. Toxicities associated with myeloablative chemotherapy include early complications such as mucositis, hemorrhagic cystitis, seizures, and hepatic injury. Late effects such as infertility and compromised linear growth impair long-term quality of life, often decreasing enthusiasm for the procedure. Reduced intensity preparative regimens are especially attractive in children with non-malignant disorders to mitigate these toxicities but have been associated with increased risk of graft rejection. The primary objective of this study was to determine the toxicity and efficacy of a non-myeloablative preparative regimen using alemtuzumab, fludarabine, and melphalan followed by HCT from HLA matched related donors (MRD) in children with hemoglobinopathies.
Methods: Following institutional review board approval, and parent and/or patient consent, participants were enrolled at 18 centers. Children < 21 years of age with severe sickle cell disease (SCD) manifestations, or transfusion dependent (> 8 red blood cell transfusions per year) thalassemia with a MRD and a performance status > 40 were eligible for inclusion. The preparative regimen included alemtuzumab (total dose 48 mg) IV (between days –22 and –19), fludarabine (30 mg/m2/day) (days –8 to –4) and melphalan (140 mg/m2) on day -3. Graft versus host disease (GVHD) prophylaxis included a calcineurin inhibitor (tapered after day 100, and methotrexate (7.5 mg/m2 on days 1, 3 and 6) or mycophenolate mofetil. Five patients also received methylprednisone (1 mg/kg/day) between days 1 and 28; this practice was discontinued in 2007.
Results: A total of 52 children (43 with SCD and 9 with thalassemia), median age 11 years (range, 10m - 20y) underwent HCT between March 2003 and July 2014. Of these, 46 received bone marrow, 5 received marrow and cord blood (CB), and 1 received CB alone. Median follow up was 35.5 months (range, 3 – 136). Forty-nine children were alive at last follow up (Figure 1); 48 were symptom-free; one CB recipient had disease recurrence following graft rejection and successfully underwent a 2nd HCT. No hepatic veno-occlusive disease was noted. Three deaths 6, 11 and 21 months post HCT were from GVHD related causes [bronchiolitis obliterans (n=1); infection with GVHD (n=2)]. The cumulative incidence of graft failure and transplant related mortality was 1.9% and 5.7% respectively. The mean time to engraftment of neutrophils (ANC >500/cu mm) and platelets (>50,000/cu mm) was 13.0 (range 5-21) and 25.9 (range 8-120) days respectively. Three patients had neurologic toxicity (seizures/PRES) post HCT. At the time of last follow up, 35 patients (67%) were complete donor chimera (>90% donor) and 16 (31%) were mixed chimera (28-89% donor). Acute GVHD (grade 1-3) was noted in 30.8%. Four had grade I, 6 had grade II, and 6 had grade III GVHD. No patient developed grade IV aGVHD. Chronic GVHD was noted in 13%. Of 43 patients that were alive without disease and >6 months post HSCT, 38 had successfully discontinued all immune suppression and maintained donor chimerism post withdrawal. Immune reconstitution was robust by the end of the first year post transplant; infectious complications (23 of 30 CMV+ recipients had reactivation) were noted primarily in the first 3 months post HSCT.
Conclusions: Children with hemoglobinopathies undergoing MRD HCT tolerated this non-myeloablative preparative regimen well, with minimal early toxicities. The event-free survival rate was comparable to those achieved with myeloablative regimens. Withdrawing immunosuppression was not associated with graft loss or recurrent GVHD. GVHD complications resulted in a low mortality rate. Alternative GVHD prophylaxis may further improve event-free survival. No gonadal toxicity (determined by hormone levels) has been identified to date in 15 HCT recipients of pubertal age (>13 years). Follow up however is early and in progress to determine long-term toxicities. These results support consideration of reduced intensity conditioning regimens for HCT in children with hemoglobinopathies as an alternative to standard myeloablative regimens.
No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.
Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.
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