CHICAGO – Bone marrow transplantation is evolving as a promising treatment for patients with the most severe forms of epidermolysis bullosa.
“Is this a cure? It’s not,”, said at the World Congress of Pediatric Dermatology. “It is, however, a path toward understanding how we can treat this grave disorder in a systemic way.”
The University of Minnesota BMT Team has also observed a correlation between the engraftment in the blood and engraftment in the skin. “We have skin engraftment as high as 50%, which is good,” Dr. Tolar said. “The more donor cells engrafted in the skin, the more types of collagen you express.”
The clinicians have also been able to reduce the amount of chemotherapy and radiation patients require prior to transplant, for the BMT to work and skin to heal. “We were able to make it so that the last 11 patients are surviving and having benefit from the transplant, with the exception of one,” Dr. Tolar said. “How does this work? We still don’t entirely know. This is not a shot in the dark, however, this is the continuation of a very long process where we were first able to show that bone marrow transplant is an efficient stem cell therapy for leukemia, and about 20 years ago for the lysosomal enzyme deficiencies.” Their hunt for the cell that travels from the bone marrow to skin and produces type 7 collagen is continuing. “What haunts me is that BMT, which works in recessive dystrophic EB, works only in some types of junctional EB, those with alpha-3 chain deficiency of laminin 322.” he continued. “There has been no benefit to bone marrow transplantation for children with mutations of beta-3 chain of laminin 322, so we have closed enrollment for this one form of junctional EB. Survival in this group was 40%. Other types of junctional EB continue to be eligible for the study.”
Dr. Tolar recommended keratinocyte-driven or thymic epithelium cell type–driven therapy for patients with mutations of beta-3. “The deficiency of thymic function seems to be key in the inability to benefit from BMT in this form of junctional EB,” he said. “We have seen children who have engrafted, their skin got better, and then they died of infection many months after transplant. When we look at the immune profile and the thymic epithelial cells, they are both deficient – very abnormal.”
Despite current challenges, Dr. Tolar expressed optimism about the future of BMT in EB patients. “We have the same approach that we have in cancer care: deep empathy for all patients, radical international collaboration, and rapid laboratory and clinical prototyping,” he said. “It’s time to move from two-dimensional science to three-dimensional science; we need to study all aspects of EB simultaneously, from gene to cell to tissue to individual to patient population, and to understand the properties of the whole EB pathobiology that emerge at each level of biological complexity. By connecting information from these layers of disease network, we can better understand EB and create comb
Dr. Tolar reported having no financial disclosures.