White Blood Cell Disorders

What are white blood cell disorders?

Blood is made up of three different types of blood cells, all of which are produced by the bone marrow:

  • red blood cells, which carry oxygen
  • platelets, which seal wounds and stop bleeding
  • white blood cells — leukocytes — which help fight infections

There are several different types of white blood cells, each of which has a specific role in protecting the body from infection:

  • neutrophils, which fight bacteria and fungal infections
  • lymphocytes, which fight viruses, produce antibodies, and regulate the immune system
  • monocytes/macrophages, which are "professional" germ-eating cells
  • eosinophils and basophils, both of which help fight parasites and are related to allergic responses

Many disorders can cause the bone marrow to produce too many or too few white blood cells, or to produce white blood cells that do not function as they should.

How we care for children with white blood cell disorders

Patients with white blood cell disorders are treated at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center through the Blood Disorders Center.

Our areas of research for white blood cell disorders

Thanks to ongoing research, treatment for patients with low white blood cell counts has improved significantly over the past 20 years. Genetic testing, which is now available for many congenital white blood cell disorders, including congenital neutropenias, has allowed better estimation of a patient's prognosis. Improved treatment and supportive care is helping patients with even the most severe of the neutrophil disorders to live longer.

For many children with rare or hard-to-treat conditions, clinical trials provide new options.