Job title: Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Calgary Cumming School of Medicine
Why she’s a 2023 Top 40 Under 40: She tests to see if probiotics can help treat gastrointestinal and psychosocial symptoms in cancer patients after treatment.
At the age of 18, Julie Deleemans was diagnosed with stage IV laryngeal cancer, and had to choose between removing her voice box and getting high-dose chemoradiation or dying before her 19th birthday. Although a traumatic experience, Deleemans says it catalyzed her passion for helping others. “I believe I survived cancer for a reason, a purpose, and helping others is how I fulfill that purpose,” she says.
Today, Deleemans is a research fellow at the University of Calgary with a PhD in Psychosocial Oncology. Through her research and clinical work, she found a connection between cancer treatments, especially chemotherapy, and long-term disturbance of the gut microbiome, which was related to poorer psychosocial and gastrointestinal (GI) health in cancer survivors.
In her own experience, she suffered from anxiety, PTSD, depression and GI issues due to her diagnosis and treatments. While probiotics have been found to help treat certain GI symptoms in patients on active treatments, few studies have looked at the effects on survivors. Deleemans’ PhD research, called the Chemo-Gut Project, looked at how treatments for cancer impact the gut microbiome, and how changes in gut microbes may impact psychosocial and GI health, making it the first of its kind. With a grant from Alberta Health Services, Deleemans started the Chemo-Gut Probiotic Trial. If successful, the finding could provide the first evidence that probiotics can repair the gut microbiome after it has been destroyed by chemotherapy.
Deleemans also works with AYA Can, an organization she co-founded in 2018 that is committed to improving access to quality age-appropriate care for adolescents and young adults with cancer. “I hope that through this work, I can make the world just a little better and leave it a better place when I go,” she says.
“My mentor and supervisor, Dr. Linda Carlson; my mentees and others affected by cancer; and my family, friends and rescue kitty, Calvin.”