Experts Bring Graft-versus-Host Disease Into Focus

According to a story from, graft-versus-host disease is a condition that can affect recipients of stem cell or organ transplants. Dr. Corey Cutler, Medical Director, Stem Cell Transplant Program, Dana-Farber Institute, and Meredith Cowden, patient, Patient Advocacy Director at the Meredith A. Cowden Foundation, hopped on Everyday Northwest to share more.

About Graft-versus-Host Disease

Graft-versus-Host disease is a potentially fatal medical complication that can appear in a patient that has recently received a transplant operation from another person. It is most commonly triggered by bone marrow transplants, but it can occur with solid organ transplants as well. The disease occurs when white blood cells that remain in the transplanted tissue begin to identify the host body as a foreign intruder and begin to attack the host’s cells. Many recipients of transplanted tissue have weakened immune systems which means that their own body is often incapable of preventing the attack from beginning. Symptoms of graft-versus-host disease include skin rashes, gastrointestinal and liver damage, and damage to the mucosa. Long term disease may see the attack spread to other areas as well, such as the host immune system, the exocrine glands, lungs, and connective tissue. Treatment often includes immunosuppressants such as steroids and certain chemotherapy agents. To learn more about graft-versus-host disease, click here.

Dr. Cutler points out that the illness can be viewed as a rejection of the transplant procedure by the remnant immune cells in the transplanted tissue. 

Meredith’s journey as a graft-versus-host disease patient began when she was 19 years old. She had developed leukemia and received a bone marrow transplant as part of her treatment. Shortly after the operation, she developed an acute case of the disease. Since then, her case has transitioned to a chronic form of the illness.

She has lived with the disease for over two decades now. During that time, multiple areas of her body, such as her kidneys, stomach, and eyes, have been impacted. Lately, her lungs have been under attack. 

Meredith was asked what she thought was the best way to advocate for someone living with the disease:

“It’s finding the resources, and I think that the best way you can do that is the GvHD Alliance website. There you can find resources for patients, caregivers, community health providers…lots of great information.”


Share this post