Stefanie Sarantopoulos treats patients with leukemia and lymphoma and she studies human blood. In particular, she studies blood from cancer patients who have had bone marrow transplants. Her goal is to make this kind of cancer therapy less toxic so that more patients get well and stay well.
“We know we can cure patients with bone marrow transplant,” she says. “We just have to improve it.”
Dr. Sarantopoulos grew up in a tiny town in southeastern Arizona. Her high school science experience was not a memorable one, and so she entered college as a German language major.
“But then I took this biochemistry course,” she says. “And I really liked it.”
That was all it took. She pursued biochemistry, excelled as a young doctor and scientist, and eventually wound up at the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center where she focused on immune system pathology. But when the opportunity arose to work at UNC, she didn’t hesitate.
“The collaborative energy of UNC is palpable and unique,” she says.
“Researchers and doctors are very willing to ‘put their heads together’ here to try to bring what they’re finding in the laboratory to clinical trials for patients. You can’t find this kind of cancer center just anywhere.”
And for her, it’s all about the patients.
“My father died of leukemia after I got into this field,” Dr. Sarantopoulos says. “So I understand what it’s like to have a family member with this illness and not have a good treatment for him. That definitely drives me.”