For the past 40 years, Daniel Weisdorf, MD, has been at the forefront of bone marrow transplant research and patient care at the University of Minnesota.
“During my time here, I have had the privilege of meeting some of the first patients that underwent transplantation treatments,” he says. “These patients had both the courage to go through the treatment, as well as the good fortune to do well afterward. They had their life given back to them, something they didn’t expect to have.”
Weisdorf originally came to the University of Minnesota in 1978, for a fellowship in Hematology and Oncology.
“When I began my fellowship, bone marrow transplantation was recognized as a new and very sophisticated immunological therapy for people with no other option,” he explains.
While other therapies didn’t have any chance at all, bone marrow transplantation seemed promising– especially for those facing life-threatening hematologic disorders.
“We give people a new chance to recover from really bad diseases, both blood cancers as well as marrow failure states,” says Weisdorf.
Continuing a Legacy
This past year, the University of Minnesota Medical School celebrated 50 years of successful bone marrow transplantation. In that time, nearly 8,000 patients were treated via transplant.
“Being able to participate in the treatments and the training of the faculty who are now involved is very exciting,” says Weisdorf.
He believes that the success of the Medical School stems from the continuous improvement of our programs. “Our focus now is trying to make the treatments safer– as well as bringing the treatments to people who, in the past, would have been turned down because they were too old or frail,” he says.
Creating an Impact
Most diseases treated by bone marrow transplant– like leukemia or lymphoma– occur in people in their mid-sixties or older. By bringing treatment to the population that needs it most, this work has made a profound impact on patients with these diseases, and on their families.
“Never until the last few years have we been able to confidently say this is a reasonable treatment for this population,” he explains. “Therapies are less toxic, less costly, and available to more patients.”
Additionally, Weisdorf has been able to tie laboratory advances to clinical changes in a much more fluid manner. He has refined what a transplant is to try and tailor the immune system so that it attacks the malignancy more potently, and the patient less.
“Transplantation is safer, and a lot of it has come from preclinical investigations. Particularly, in immunology, because this is fundamentally an immunologic therapy, not a chemotherapy approach,” he says.
Evolving the Field
Weisdorf’s hope is that the field only continues to advance and the treatments get safer. “Maybe we can advance to the point where we can do the procedure without having to replace the entire immune system,” he says.”
He would like to see more people recognize the excitement and fun of being able to take work from the laboratory and turn their work into treatment for patients that they see in the clinic.
“That, for me, is the most exciting thing I’ve been able to do,” says Weisdorf.