That’s the challenge Debbie Meador faced in 2007 when she was diagnosed with leukemia. A stem cell transplant was her only treatment option, but Meador, unlike TV personality Robin Roberts, had no sibling who was a match as her stem cell donor. Fortunately for Meador, she was able to receive an alternative to a traditional stem cell transplant. She received a transplant of stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood. Today, five years after her transplant the 57-year-old California woman is cancer free.
The lack of suitable donors for minorities and persons of mixed ancestry such as Meador is a common dilemma, and there is an ongoing critical need for more people of color and mixed ancestry to sign up as stem cell donors. However, alternative transplant techniques are chipping away at this barrier.
Researcher physicians at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center are pioneers in using alternative transplants to successfully treat patients with blood disorders who cannot find traditional related or unrelated stem cell donors. Two types of these transplants – using stem cells from umbilical cord blood units and haploidentical (partially matched) related donors – are the focus of ongoing research and clinical studies.
The two researcher physicians who lead the alternative transplant programs here are:
- Colleen Delaney, MD, is an associate member of the Clinical Research Division and director of the Cord Blood Transplant Program at the Hutchinson Center, and an attending physician at SCCA. She co-authored a landmark research study published in 2010 that detailed a way to expand the number of progenitor cells in a single cord blood unit in order to speed engraftment of the cells in the patient.
- Paul O’Donnell, MD,PhD, is medical director of the Adult Stem Cell Transplant Service, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance; and member of the Hutchinson Center’s Clinical Research Division. Dr. O’Donnell oversees a new clinical study that is comparing the effectiveness of cord blood and haploidentical transplants.