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UAB named Center of Excellence in mast cell diseases

by Bob Shepard

Pankit Vachhani, M.D.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham has been designated a Center of Excellence by the American Initiative in Mast Cell Diseases Network. Mast cells are produced in the bone marrow and are an important part of the immune system. Mast cell diseases, such as mastocytosis, occur from an overabundance or overactivity of mast cells in the bone marrow and other organs.

The UAB Medicine MPN and Mastocytosis clinic, located in the Kirklin Clinic and the first of its kind in the Southeast, treats mast cell diseases. It is part of the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center, in the Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine.

“The designation is the highest bestowed by AIM and requires meeting many stringent criteria, including expertise in multiple medical specialties serving mast cell disorders and mastocytosis,” said Pankit Vachhani, M.D., assistant professor in the UAB Department of MedicineDivision of Hematology and Oncology, and director of the clinic. “Our clinic offers multidisciplinary expertise with representation from pathology, dermatology, gastroenterology, and allergy/immunology, along with hematology/oncology, in the treatment of mast cell disorders.”

Vachhani says the UAB clinic is enrolling patients in practice-changing clinical trials of promising medications, is engaged in educational programs, and is the referral site of choice for patients from across the Southeast. Patients are managed by a team of experts, including physician specialists, nurse practitioners and pharmacists. 

Mastocytosis is a rare condition caused by an excess number of clonal mast cells gathering in the body’s tissues, such as the skin, internal organs and bones. An abnormal number of mast cells in the tissue can lead to an increased risk of a severe and life-threatening allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis. Additionally, patients can have signs and symptoms spanning various different organ systems and a diminished quality of life.

The clinic also sees patients with myeloproliferative neoplasms, a group of related diseases where the bone marrow makes too many red blood cells, platelets or certain white blood cells. MPN can cause bleeding or clotting problems, anemia, infection, fatigue, and enlarged spleen and can lead to certain types of leukemia. 

Patients interested in more information on the UAB MPN and Mastocytosis Clinic can call 205-801-9034.

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