Pilot Study of Topical Dexamethasone 0.01% Solution for Prevention of Oral Chronic Graft Versus Host Disease

Updated on 22 December 2020
graft versus host disease
graft-versus-host disease


This study will determine if a dexamethasone mouth rinse can reduce the risk of developing oral chronic graft-versus-host disease (cGVHD) in patients who have undergone a bone marrow (stem cell) transplant procedure. cGVHD is a common complication of stem cell transplantation, resulting from the donor cells attacking the transplant recipient's tissues. In oral cGVHD, the tissues in the mouth are damaged, causing painful mouth sores. Dexamethasone is a corticosteroid that is commonly used to treat inflammation. It is the only corticosteroid available that can be used as a mouth rinse.

Patients 12 years of age or older who have received a stem cell transplant may be eligible to participate if they are enrolled within 70 to 90 days of their transplant. Candidates are screened with a medical history and oral exam.


Participants are randomly assigned to receive either the dexamethasone rinse or a placebo (a solution that looks and tastes like the dexamethasone rinse but has no active medication). They undergo the following procedures:

  • Treatment with the study solution.
  • Patients rinse their mouth with the dexamethasone solution or placebo three times a day for 3 months.


Clinic visits before starting treatment and at 1, 2 and 3 months after starting the study drug for the following procedures:

  • Oral exam (before starting treatment and at each visit).
  • Photographs of the mouth (before starting treatment and at 3 months).
  • Biopsy from inside the cheek (before starting treatment). The inside of the cheek is numbed and a small piece of tissue is removed for examination by a pathologist.
  • Saliva sample collection (before starting treatment).
  • Blood draw (before starting treatment and at each visit).
  • Quality-of-life questionnaires (before starting treatment and at 3 months).
  • Questionnaire to assess level of dry mouth and mouth pain (before starting treatment and at each visit).
  • Review of medications (at each visit).
  • ACTH stimulation test to evaluate adrenal gland function (at 3 months). Patients are given an injection of a drug called "ACTH" or "cosynthropin," which is a version of a hormone normally produced by the pituitary gland. Blood samples are drawn before the injection and at 30 and 60 minutes after the injection to measure levels of the hormone cortisol.


After treatment ends, participants are contacted by telephone every month for 6 months to report any symptoms of cGVHD, and they return to the clinic at 6 months for a final evaluation.

Please visit our Patient Recruitment Page for more information.



Prevention of oral chronic graft versus host disease (GVHD) by topical agents is an attractive strategy because it would potentially avoid the adverse effects associated with systemic immunosuppression. Topically administered dexamethasone solution is a commonly used agent for the prophylaxis of oral inflammatory conditions including GVHD. However, the efficacy and systemic effects of topically administered dexamethasone solution are unknown. We therefore propose this trial designed to evaluate the efficacy and safety of topical dexamethasone solution for prevention of oral chronic oral GVHD in stem cell transplant recipients.

This pilot phase II study will follow a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled, parallel group design. Consenting subjects who have undergone hematopoietic stem cell transplantation at the NIH Clinical Center and the surrounding transplant clinics will be randomized 50/50 to receive dexamethasone 0.01% solution or placebo as an oral rinse for 3 months starting 90-100 days post-transplant. Subjects will be evaluated monthly after the start of intervention. Diagnostic and research evaluations will include a complete oral examination, oral mucosal biopsy prior to the beginning of the intervention (day -7) and at the time of development of oral chronic GVHD or at the completion of intervention in the absence of clinical GVHD. We will measure serum dexamethasone levels and perform short cosyntropin (ACTH stimulation) test at the end of the 3-months of intervention or onset of clinically significant GVHD.

The primary objective of the study is to evaluate the safety and efficacy of topical dexamethasone 0.01% solution used as an oral rinse for prevention of oral chronic GVHD. Our primary endpoint will be the proportion of subjects that develop clinically significant (severity score 3 or higher) oral chronic GVHD after three months.

Secondary objectives will include the impact of oral chronic GVHD on the quality of life, characterization of the changes in tissue and salivary biomarkers associated with development of oral graft versus host disease, and measures of the effects of topical dexamethasone on hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis. Secondary outcomes will include oral cavity specific quality of life as measured by OHIP-14 questionnaire, oral discomfort levels, improvement in general quality of life scores, and severity of oral chronic GVHD as measured by the site-specific GVHD scoring system.


Please visit our Patient Recruitment Page for more information.

Condition Graft-Versus-Host Disease (GVHD), Oral Chronic Graft-versus-Host Disease GVHD
Clinical Study IdentifierTX218165
Last Modified on22 December 2020


Yes No Not Sure

Inclusion Criteria

History of allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation within 60-90 days of enrollment
Age 12 or older
Ability to rinse and expectorate study medication rather than swallow it
Ability and willingness to come to Clinical Center for follow-up appointments and at the time of development of symptoms/signs suggestive of oral GVHD

Exclusion Criteria

Clinically significant oral chronic GVHD at the time of the screening
Active viral or fungal infection involving oral cavity not resolving by day 90
Platelet count less than 20,000/ml at the time of the screening appointment
Life expectancy less than 4 months at the time of enrollment
Documented hypersensitivity to dexamethasone
Pregnancy or lactation
Inability to understand the investigational nature of the study
Inability to provide informed consent
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Additional screening procedures may be conducted by the study team before you can be confirmed eligible to participate.

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If you are confirmed eligible after full screening, you will be required to understand and sign the informed consent if you decide to enroll in the study. Once enrolled you may be asked to make scheduled visits over a period of time.

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Complete your scheduled study participation activities and then you are done. You may receive summary of study results if provided by the sponsor.

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