Colleen S. Delaney, MD
While Colleen Delaney, MD, MSC considers childbirth as a miracle in itself, she also sees its potential to offer a miracle of another kind—a cure for cancer. By harnessing the healing power of umbilical cord blood, Dr. Delaney, an oncologist and researcher working with Dr. Irwin Bernstein's laboratory, is pioneering a treatment that may prove to be a landmark breakthrough for leukemia patients. In Dr. Delaney's hands, cord-blood stem cells offer hope to desperately ill leukemia patients by helping them replace ravaged blood systems. Medical researchers have long known that cord blood is a potential source of stem cells—which are not the same as embryonic stem cells—for transplants to treat leukemia and other blood diseases, but the small number of these cells in each unit collected has hampered its use. Dr. Delaney and her lab colleagues have toppled this barrier by developing a technique that expands the cells 150-fold, making cord-blood transplants a possibility for adults. Cord blood has advantages as a stem-cell source. It is readily available, fewer viral infections are transmitted with it, and it doesn't require the extremely close genetic matching of bone-marrow transplants. That makes it especially promising for the 16,000 leukemia patients diagnosed each year who can't find a matching bone-marrow donor—many of whom are of mixed ethnic or racial ancestry. So far, a handful of patients have undergone the new treatment with very positive results. Dr. Delaney began her oncology career intending to treat children with cancer. She said she loves the strength and courage with which kids confront a scary trial like cancer. "They're throwing up one second, and the next moment they're asking, 'Wanna play?'" she said. But to her surprise, she was drawn to research as her primary focus. "I love caring for patients, but being a doctor opened my eyes to the potential of research, where I realized I can really change things for a lot of people. That drives me," Dr. Delaney said. "It's very important for me to have my hand in patient care, but I also want to fix the problems and that only happens through research." As a physician in Bernstein's lab, Dr. Delaney recognized the significant potential of moving laboratory findings forward to advance patient care. She credits Bernstein with urging her to build her career in research. She's also quick to acknowledge the lab staff, some who have toiled for 25 years on cord-blood stem cell expansion. "The work I do would not be possible at many places," she said. "It's such a collaborative place, and the facilities are critical, too. I do not work in a vacuum." "Translating laboratory findings to the patient bedside is no small feat. And when the time finally comes and a patient agrees to take a step forward with a new treatment, the feeling is without description—excitement, anxiety and hope," Dr. Delaney said. "Then when the treatment works, there isn't anything more gratifying."
Specialty: Medical Oncology
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