Behind the Scenes at CFRI - A Talk with Dr. Meg DeLano

by Francine Bion

Spring 1998

The backbone of any organization, profit or nonprofit, is its people. The more effective the people, the better the organization. When a nonprofit organization has within its ranks, talented and effective volunteers, then that organization is truly fortunate. CFRI is indeed lucky to have the support and commitment of all its volunteers, especially our first volunteer to be recognized in this column, our RAC Chair and Medical Advisor, Dr. Meg DeLano.

We sat down and talked with Dr. DeLano to learn about the crucial roles she has within CFRI and how she supports CFRI's mission.

Meet Dr. Meg DeLano

Dr. DeLano is a semi-retired allergist with a part-time practice in San Jose. She currently serves as CFRI's Research Advisory Committee (RAC) chairperson and as Medical Advisor for CFRI's annual retreat and CFRI conference. In her role as RAC chair, she is responsible for overseeing the distribution of over $250,000 each year in research funds for cystic fibrosis research. With help from RAC members, she contributes to the development of CFRI's research funding guidelines and priorities, provides information and guidance to prospective Principal Investigators, looks for new research opportunities, and administers the biannual proposal review process. Along with her role as Medical Advisor, Dr. DeLano is quite busy on CFRI's behalf.

CFRI: How did you first become associated with cystic fibrosis?

DeLano: Fifteen years ago I began organizing a CF Center for Northern California Kaiser. I was working as an allergist at Kaiser Hospital in Santa Clara after I finished my training at the University of Louisiana in Shreveport. As a senior resident, I had supervised cystic fibrosis and pulmonary clinics. I noticed a coincidence in the problems of people with CF and the problems of asthmatics with chronic sinusitis, polyps, and bronchiectasis (chronic lung infection where the bronchial tubes become distorted and act as fluid traps for pus). These cases looked like CF but the sweat tests were negative. I did a special literature review on the underlying factors of these diseases. In retrospect, if today's genetic tests had been available, some of these children might have been diagnosed with CF.

CFRI: What interested you in creating a CF Center?

DeLano: I discovered that there was no process for referring Kaiser CF patients to specialists, and that Kaiser at that time was not using a particular sweat test that had become the standard for CF centers, so I decided to become more active in cystic fibrosis. I contacted pulmonary specialists at other Kaiser hospitals. Together, we developed a special program for CF patients with support from nutritionists and gastroenterologists, and we developed an overall good team approach. Out of this came an application to the national Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (CFF) to become an accredited CF Center. The Kaiser Centers became the first HMO to be accredited by the CFF as a national center.

CFRI: How did you become involved with CFRI?

DeLano: As I began to see CF patients, I was greatly impressed by the positive effect CF Camp was having on the teenagers. It seemed to improve the attitudes of the teens about CF, and it seemed to serve as a support network for them. I got involved with the camp at about the same time CFRI took it over from the CF Society, a CF nonprofit organization in the East Bay. I became the Medical Advisor approximately ten years ago, and I've been doing this ever since for a week each summer. I have had a wonderful time. I remember the camp was in session when the CF gene was discovered. I remember TV crews coming out to the camp, and the great celebration we all had.

CFRI: You have another role at CFRI. Tell us about that.

DeLano: In January of 1997 I became the RAC Chair. My goals have been to expand the number of researchers and research centers that are aware of funding possibilities from CFRI. I also wanted to look at ways we could increase cooperation between various CF research centers in Northern California, by funding basic projects all researchers could benefit from. For example, Dr. Walter Finkbeiner was just funded by CFRI in December (Editor's note: see 1997 research funding list on page 7.) to develop a method to culture the serous cells in the lung, which show higher amounts of CFTR in their membrane than any of the other lung cells. It would be of tremendous benefit to other local researchers if they had these cells to work with, because the serous cell that is the cell most affected by the genetic abnormality. Researchers need to determine whether it can be manipulated by gene therapy and exactly what role CFTR plays in the cell function.

CFRI: What are your current goals as RAC chair?

DeLano: I want to continue to upgrade the level of scrutiny by scientists in the field in the form of peer review to insure we direct funds to the most valuable areas of study.

CFRI: Tell us a little about your life outside of CFRI.

DeLano: I recently moved to the Santa Cruz mountains, near Pescadero. I'm involved in an oral history project of the Pescadero Creek area. We talk with people who have lived there a long time. We're looking at the evolution and changes in the natural environment of the area.

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