It’s what every parent of a child with a food allergy dreams about: the possibility of a cure. A couple of years ago, a young boy underwent a bone marrow transplant as a treatment for leukemia. The bone marrow came from a donor not known to have any allergies. After the transplant, the boy no longer had a peanut allergy he had lived with since infancy. A food test confirmed it. This sounds like great news, and it no doubt is good for this individual, but a reverse event may also be possible.
Bone Marrow Transplants
Marrow is unique tissue that grows inside bones. It is soft and fatty and houses stem cells that give rise to the different types of blood cells in the body. Throughout your life, your bone marrow produces new cells to replenish the blood. A transplant of bone marrow from a donor can be done to replace damaged tissue in someone who is sick. These transplants are used to treat certain types of cancer, including leukemia, a type of blood cancer, and any other disease that damages marrow.
Peanut Allergy Case Study
The boy who was cured of his deadly peanut allergy through a bone marrow transplant was written about in a case study and presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology Annual Scientific Meeting. The boy in the case study was diagnosed with a peanut allergy at 15 months and later developed leukemia.
At the age of ten, the boy underwent a bone marrow transplant to treat the cancer, and afterwards it was determined that he was no longer allergic to peanuts. This was suspected, but then confirmed with a food challenge test conducted by an allergist. The boy is also healthy now, thanks to the transplant, and he no longer has leukemia.
Allergies and Bone Marrow
While the risks of a bone marrow transplant are too high for any doctor to recommend it as a treatment for allergies, this case study does shed more light on how allergies develop and how they may be treated or cured. The incident suggests that some type of genetic change in the immune cells that develop in bone marrow at an early age may play an important role in the emergence of an allergy. A better understanding of this process could lead to better treatments.
The Dark Side of This Hopeful Story
The case study here was notable and rare, but what was already known was that bone marrow transplants could have the opposite effect. There are unfortunately more cases, although they are still rare, of recipients developing allergies after a transplant—allergies that they never had before. One example of this occurred recently when a man underwent a bone marrow transplant with a donation from his sister. She had a known kiwi allergy and, after the procedure, he developed a new allergy to kiwi fruit.
This case was important because it was the first example in which the transfer of an allergy could be definitively blamed on a donor’s stem cells. Like the case of the boy with the peanut allergy, it adds even more information to what we know about food allergies and that stem cells in bone marrow are important.
While these cases are not directly leading to a cure for food allergies, they do provide allergists and researchers with a lot of important new information. The more we know about food allergies and how they develop or disappear, the closer we are to a real treatment or cure.