Drug gives new hope for ocular GVHD treatment

New research shows ‘game changing’ treatment of ocular graft-versus-host disease with greatly reduced side effects

Protopic ointment

The immunosuppressant drug tacrolimus is just as effective in treating ocular graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) as the steroid medication methylpredisolone, according to new research.

Tacromilus was shown to reduce ocular symptoms of GVHD to the same extent as methylpredisolone, the current therapy of choice for the disease, but without the hypertensive side effects of the steroid.

Ocular GVHD is a complication associated with tissue transplants and occurs when a patient’s immune cells recognise new tissue as ‘foreign.’

In a study carried out by Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Harvard Medical School in the US, researchers observed the progress of 40 GVHD patients over a period of 10 weeks.

Of these patients, 24 received treatment twice a day with topical tacrolimus and 16 were treated with topical methylpredisolone.

At the end of the study the researchers saw reductions in dry eye and irritation in both groups of patients, however intraocular pressure had risen in the group receiving the steroid treatment but not in those treated with tacrolimus.

Lead researcher, Dr Reza Dana, said that the results of the study could significantly improve treatment for patients with ocular GVHD.

Dr Dana commented: “The problem with steroid treatment for ocular GVHD is that it can cause the pressure in the eye to rise, and it can also cause cataracts.

“The results of this trial give us reassurance that tacrolimus is another effective treatment for GVHD, without the negative side effects of steroids. This is a game changer in terms of managing [patient] care.”

Image credit: Mass. Eye and Ear