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Thursday 15 May 2003

Rituximab for the treatment of refractory autoimmune hemolytic anemia in children.

By: Zecca M, Nobili B, Ramenghi U, Perrotta S, Amendola G, Rosito P, Jankovic M, Pierani P, De Stefano P, Bonora MR, Locatelli F.

Blood 2003 May 15;101(10):3857-61

Autoimmune hemolytic anemia (AIHA) in children is sometimes characterized by a severe course, requiring prolonged administration of immunosuppressive therapy. Rituximab is able to cause selective in vivo destruction of B lymphocytes, with abrogation of antibody production. In a prospective study, we have evaluated the use of rituximab for the treatment of AIHA resistant to conventional treatment. Fifteen children with AIHA were given rituximab, 375 mg/m(2)/dose for a median of 3 weekly doses. All patients had previously received 2 or more courses of immunosuppressive therapy; 2 patients had undergone splenectomy. After completing treatment, all children received intravenous immunoglobulin for 6 months. Treatment was well tolerated. With a median follow-up of 13 months, 13 patients (87%) responded, whereas 2 patients did not show any improvement. Median hemoglobin levels increased from 7.7 g/dL to a 2-month posttreatment level of 11.8 g/dL (P <.001). Median absolute reticulocyte counts decreased from 236 to 109 x 10(9)/L (P <.01). An increase in platelet count was observed in patients with concomitant thrombocytopenia (Evans syndrome). Three responder patients had relapse, 7, 8, and 10 months after rituximab infusion, respectively. All 3 children received a second course of rituximab, again achieving disease remission. Our data indicate that rituximab is both safe and effective in reducing or even abolishing hemolysis in children with AIHA and that a sustained response can be achieved in the majority of cases. Disease may recur, but a second treatment course may be successful in controlling the disease.

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