Immunology

It is the vision of the Brody Borlaug Foundation to bring pediatric immunology to our region, which would greatly benefit the children of our community.  A trained specialist in Immunology would manage each child’s care from diagnosis to cure with continuous and comprehensive treatment so children can received the care they need close to home.  The Brody Borlaug Foundation has partnered with Doernbecher Children’s Hospital to make this vision a reality.

Q. What is a Primary Immunodeficiency?

A.  Primary Immunodeficiencies–a genetic condition that is chronic, serious, and often fatal–affects as many as 1 million Americans and 10 million worldwide. Yet, it is just beginning to receive widespread attention.  To date, there are over 150 forms of Primary Immunodeficiencies, ranging widely in severity–some are relatively common, others are quite rare. Together, they affect more people than leukemia and lymphoma combined.

When a defect in the immune system is carried through the genes, it is called a Primary Immunodeficiency and can affect anyone, regardless of age or sex, though they frequently present themselves early in life. The more severe immunodeficiency diseases are detected most frequently in children.  Primary Immunodeficiency diseases occur in persons born with an immune system that is either absent or hampered in its ability to function and are typically triggered by infections that can often be recurring, persistent, debilitating, and chronic.

*Brody had a rare and complex immunodeficiency triggered by exposure to the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection-placing him in the ‘very serious, often fatal’ scale of primary immune deficiencies.  The only curative treatment in cases like Brody’s is a bone marrow transplant.

Q. How does Doernbecher Children’s Hospital Benefit from an Immunology program?

A.  The Doernbecher bone marrow transplant (BMT) program has grown substantially over the past 18 years and is now treating almost 40 children each year. In addition to treating high risk leukemia and bone marrow failure, BMT is also effective in treating some non-malignant diseases, including metabolic disorders and immunodeficiency syndromes. In all cases, BMT involves high-dose chemotherapy and/or radiation, and the immune system must then be rebuilt. Our patients would be better served by increasing our expertise in pediatric immunology. An Immunologist on faculty would increase our ability to diagnose immunodeficiency syndromes and enhance our management of patients following BMT. We need to recruit an immunologist, who would be expected to provide care, conduct research, and contribute to our teaching program.

“While immunology is more than cancer, the role of the immune system in fighting cancer, reconstituting the immune system following a bone marrow transplant, and the fact that having an immune deficiency puts one at an increased risk of cancer all make a strong immunology program a much-needed part of a world-class pediatric cancer program.” – Dr. H Stacy Nicholson, Physican-in-Chief, Doernbecher Children’s Hospital

Q.  What is the significance of an Immunology program in Portland?

A.  A Pediatric Immunology Program at Doernbecher would serve the children of our region by providing comprehensive care to those suffering from primary immune deficiencies. While the Doernbecher Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) Program can provide BMT for these children, the absence of a formal Pediatric Immunology Program is a barrier to effective and efficient diagnosis and management of these children. The immune system, which protects the body from infection, is highly complex, and some children are born with part of that system missing or not working properly. This makes them more open to serious infection and illness. Currently, children in Oregon and SW Washington with suspected primary immune deficiencies, must travel out-of-state to receive the diagnostic tests and care they so desperately deserve. The burden of illness alone on the family is difficult enough, imagine also having to relocate or travel long distances in order to receive treatment for these complicated medical issues.

Recognized as one of the nation’s best pediatric hospitals, Doernbecher’s mission is to provide the premier children’s healthcare experience in our region through excellence in care, advocacy, innovation, education and research.  A formal Pediatric Immunology Program at Doernbecher would serve two purposes: (1) contribute to the already noteworthy bone marrow transplant and cancer research and treatment programs at the hospital and (2) offer on-site expertise to diagnose and care for children with primary immunodeficiency diseases.  Our community would be better served by increasing the hospital’s expertise in pediatric immunology.

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