The visit of PD Dr. med. Olaf Penack from Berlin was the occasion for a gathering of an expert team from the Competence Center for Ocular Graft-versus-Host Disease (GvHD) at the University Hospital of Cologne. The center’s accomplishments motivated Dr. Penack to contact the University Eye Hospital of Cologne, leading to a visit in the framework of the DFG research unit FOR 2240 at the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Cologne and the promise of future cooperation. Read more about that here: https://www.for2240.de/lymphangiogenesis-and-gvhd-hematology-meets-ophthalmology/.
Pictured from left are Prof. Dr. Claus Cursiefen, the Chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology and University Eye Hospital Cologne, PD Dr. Philipp Steven, Speaker and Director of the Competence Center for Ocular GvHD at the University Hospital of Cologne, Prof. Dr. Birgit Gasthof, Head of the Department for Transfusion Medicine at the University Hospital of Cologne, PD Dr. med. Olaf Penack, a Senior Physician for Bone Marrow Transplantation and Research Group Leader at Charité Hospital Berlin, and Prof. Dr. Christof Scheid with PD Dr. Udo Holtick from Clinic I for Internal Medicine at the University Hospital of Cologne.
Further members of the Cologne Competence Center for Ocular GvHD not pictured include Prof. Dr. Björn Bachmann, University Eye Hospital of Cologne, and Prof. Dr. Michael Hallek, Chairman of Clinic I for Internal Medicine. There is more information on the center on the website of the University Eye Hospital Cologne (in German), which is summarized below:
The Competence Center for Ocular Graft-versus-Host Disease (GvHD) at the University Hospital of Cologne is an interdisciplinary unit for eye examinations and treatment before and after a blood stem cell transplantation that uses materials from a donor (an allogeneic transplantation). Three departments at the University Hospital of Cologne work closely together in this center: ophthalmologists from the University Eye Hospital of Cologne, hematological oncologists from Clinic I for Internal Medicine, and the head of the Department of Transfusion Medicine.
When a blood stem cell transplantation takes place using donor materials, it occurs that the eyes of up to 60% of patients show signs of a rejection reaction. This reaction, which is called a graft-versus-host reaction, is immunologically based. It involves severe cases of dry eye disease, which can even lead to blindness. Clearly, close cooperation and tightly coordinated patient care among the departments involved is needed. What is special about the Cologne center is that it is the first one in the world to have an eye examination unit in the isolation ward for bone marrow transplantations. For such patients, getting infected poses a grave danger.
There are a number of treatments available when signs of ocular graft-versus-host disease become evident in transplantation patients. The University Hospital of Cologne is the first in the province of North-Rhine Westphalia to offer eye drops manufactured using the patient’s own blood (autologous serum eye drops). These are produced in cooperation with the Department of Transfusion Medicine. This is one promising approach in an area where there remains much to be done in the research and development of better treatments.