The Case for Upfront HLA-Matched Unrelated Donor Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation as a Curative Option for Adult Acquired Severe Aplastic Anemia

Judith C.W. Marsh*, Antonio M. Risitano, Ghulam J. Mufti

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


The improved success of HLA-matched unrelated donor (MUD) hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) for severe aplastic anemia (SAA) in recent decades has had an impact on the indications for and timing of this treatment modality. In the absence of a matched sibling donor (MSD), historically MUD HSCT was reserved as an option after failure to respond to at least 2 courses of immunosuppressive therapy (IST) in adults with SAA, but with improved outcomes over time, it is now considered following failure to respond to 1 course of IST. Recent national and international studies and guidelines now recommend upfront MUD HSCT as an option for children for whom an MUD is readily available, because outcomes are similar to those for MSD HSCT. Fludarabine-based conditioning and the use of in vivo T cell depletion with antithymocyte globulin or alemtuzumab has been associated with a reported overall survival (OS) of >85% in adult patients undergoing MUD HSCT. However, the recent introduction of eltrombopag for patients with SAA has transformed the treatment landscape, and there is currently much interest in its use with IST as upfront treatment, which showed a high response rate in an early-phase study. The risks of HSCT, especially graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), need to be carefully balanced against the concerns of IST, namely relapse and later clonal evolution to myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS)/acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). In the absence of a current prospective randomized trial comparing these 2 approaches, in this review we examine the evidence supporting consideration of early MUD HSCT in adults with SAA who would have been considered for MSD HSCT but who lack a MSD and for whom an MUD is readily available, especially using an irradiation-free conditioning regimen, with a low risk of GVHD, as another treatment option. This option may be offered to patients to provide them with an informed choice, with the aim of curing disease rather than achieving freedom from disease, relapse-free survival, or OS. Furthermore, understanding the immune signature for the response to IST and the immunologic responses to somatic mutations and clonal progression to MDS/AML may help define the future indications for upfront HSCT and a more precise medical approach to therapy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e277-e284
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2019


  • Alemtuzumab
  • Hematopoietic stem cell transplantation
  • Severe aplastic anemia


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