Newswise — Rockville, Md. – New research being presented at the virtual 2021 Annual Meeting of The Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) demonstrates that adverse environments is possibly an avoidable risk factor for ocular graft-versus-host-disease (oGVHD), a rapidly progressing, sight-threatening condition of the eye following allogeneic hematopoetic stem cell transplantation (aSCT).

Years ago, while building out his team’s oGVHD program, first author, Professor Philipp Steven, MD, of the University of Cologne, University Hospital of Cologne, Germany and his team visited a bone marrow transplant ward (BMT) and observed severe dryness of the ward's environment. After consulting with ward staff who confirmed this observation and who described dry-eye symptoms, Steven started monitoring air humidity and temperature.

With a longstanding background of dry-eye patient care and research, the hypothesis of adverse environment as a trigger of ocular surface disease in BMT patients was obvious. A short retrospective demonstrated indeed that patients undergoing BMT in winter (i.e., under lower humidity) had a higher rate of oGVHD than those transplanted in summer. These findings are now confirmed in a large retrospective survey over five years and experimentally using a murine GVHD model. Overall adverse environment on the BMT ward not only triggers ocular surface disease but is also a potentially avoidable risk factor for oGVHD.

The implications of this research are numerous, explains Steven. “We are currently working with several other large BMT programs in Germany to confirm our findings at other locations. Furthermore, we are identifying molecular and cellular mechanisms, that take place during environmental stress and BMT.” Further, Steven says his team believes that they, “may have found a way to significantly reduce the rate of ocular GVHD by technically modifying the environment under which patients are transplanted. If confirmed by soon to be performed prospective observations, this might change the way, bone marrow transplantation is performed.”

Abstract title: Adverse Environmental Stress is a Risk Factor for Ocular Graft-Versus-Host Disease

Presentation start/end time: Sunday, May 2, 2021, 11:15am – 1pm ET

Presentation number: 3542527


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The Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) is the largest eye and vision research organization in the world. Members include approximately 10,000 eye and vision researchers from over 75 countries. ARVO advances research worldwide into understanding the visual system and preventing, treating and curing its disorders. Learn more at

Meeting Link: 2021 Annual Meeting of The Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO)