— it’s tough to pin down the cause as a
Commins has one patient who, before
she came to him, went on a horrific diagnostic odyssey, including removal of her
gall bladder and part of her pancreas. Doctors gave her pancreatic enzymes derived
from pigs. This made her worse. She
couldn’t eat. Doctors inserted a feeding
tube to keep her alive. Then she read about
Commins’ work, and he diagnosed her
with alpha-gal. She’s on the mend now.
In 2009, Commins was at the Uni-
versity of Virginia, where he and another
researcher documented the first 24 cases
of alpha-gal in the U.S. Today, there are
thousands of documented cases. Most of
these people live in the South — from
Missouri and Arkansas, eastward toward
Virginia and points south. The Lone Star
Tick is suspected to be the main culprit,
but Commins thinks other tick types and
arthropods, such as chiggers, shouldn’t be
Commins now runs his own lab at
UNC and is studying how alpha-gal does
what it does. His colleagues are using a line
of mice for which they’ve knocked out the
gene that creates the alpha-gal sugar.
His lab then injects ground-up tick saliva
glands under the skin of mice to mimic a
tick bite. (They also can use actual ticks that
bite the mice, but keeping many live ticks
in an animal facility isn’t the best idea.)
The experiments include figuring out
which immune system cells and substances
are important for this allergic reaction.
Once they pinpoint the underlying molec-
ular causes of the allergy, they can start
thinking about possible treatments.
Commins and Jareth also are working
on the natural history of alpha-gal. Some
people react violently to all meat that con-
tains alpha-gal. Other people, such as Mel-
ody Adams, can eat pork but not red meat.
Commins and Jareth want to know why.
According to their data, the alpha-gal
allergy may not be permanent, at least not
for all people.
“In our patients, we’ve found that IgE
antibody levels decrease substantially over
time, if there are no further tick bites,”
Commins said. After about two years, some
people should be able to eat meat again.
Adams is a gardener who spends a lot
of time outdoors and is married to Chapel
Hill burger baron Al Bowers ’ 88, who
owns Al’s Burger Shack; they recently
opened a restaurant bearing her name,
the short-lived Mel’s Commissary and
Luncheonette. But the burgers? She isn’t
sure she wants to test those waters again.
“I think I’m good, thanks,” she said.
— Mark Derewicz
‘To be honest, we can’t say for sure
exactly how ticks cause the allergy.
But we think we know, and
we’re trying to prove it.’
Maya Jerath and Scott Commins
OLD CHAPEL HILL
Legacy sized plot available
Very rare and large legacy sized plot
( 10 casket to 20 cremated interments, perhaps
a mausoleum) now available through a
transaction structured by Advantaged
Capital for Education —
(a nonprofit, tax exempt North Carolina
Corporation) for scholarships to worthy
Recognizing the incomparable nature of
this unique offering, the strategy will shift
to a descending asking price point at noon
December 1, 2017 and again each month
going forward until an acceptable offer is
forthcoming. Someone will be successful.
Offers are welcome. See the website below
for ongoing asking price updates.
for video, site maps and plat, pricing,
and contact information.
Also see: http://ebay.to/2htRBHs
Gardner H. Altman, Jr.,
BS ’ 68, JD ’ 71