Donor Lymphocyte Infusion

A donor lymphocyte infusion (DLI) is a procedure in which lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) from a donor are given to a person with blood cancer. DLI is a possible treatment option for people who have had previous treatment with an allogeneic stem cell transplant. The lymphocytes come from the same donor who provided the stem cells for the transplant. The lymphocytes may be collected at the same time as the initial stem cells and saved for later use.1

When is donor lymphocyte infusion used after stem cell transplant?

DLI may be used to treat relapses of certain kinds of blood cancer in people who have already had an allogeneic stem cell transplant. In some cases, DLI is used in combination with chemotherapy. DLI has been shown to be very effective in treating certain types of chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). It may also be used to treat other blood cancers, including:2,3

  • Acute myeloid leukemia (AML)
  • Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL)
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL)
  • Hodgkin lymphoma (HL)
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS)

DLI may also be used to prevent a relapse of blood cancer by using the donor lymphocytes to treat the cancer. The donor's stem cells fight the blood cancer cells because they recognize them as foreign. This is called a "graft-versus-tumor" effect (graft refers to the donor's cells).2

How does it work?

The lymphocytes are taken from blood donated by the original stem cell transplant donor. This donation may be part of the original donation, or the donor may be contacted again. The lymphocytes are delivered similarly to a blood transfusion. The goal of the DLI is that the donor cells will attack any blood cancer cells and cause a remission of the cancer.3

What are the possible side effects?

The main side effect of DLI is graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). GVHD is a condition in which the donor's cells see the person's body as foreign and begin to attack certain organs. GVHD can range from mild to life-threatening. It may affect various parts of the body, including the skin, liver, and intestines.2,3

Another possible DLI side effect is bone marrow suppression. This is when fewer blood cells are produced by the bone marrow. This may lead to low levels of white blood cells, red blood cells, or platelets. Most cases of bone marrow suppression are short-term and resolve themselves. Some people may be given drugs to boost their blood cells, or they may receive blood transfusions.3

These are not all the possible side effects of DLI. Talk to your doctor about what to expect or if you experience any changes that concern you during treatment with DLI.

Things to know about donor lymphocyte infusion

Before beginning treatment for blood cancer, tell your doctor about all your health conditions and any other drugs, vitamins, or supplements you are taking. This includes over-the-counter drugs.

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Written by: Emily Downward | Last reviewed: April 2021