The legacy of Cecil H. and Ida Green at The University of Texas at Dallas was to establish in Dallas a world-class cohort of faculty and students in the new domain of integrated interdisciplinary biomedical research. The Cecil Green Estate created the professorship. Delk was appointed in 2018.
Delk’s research is focused on cancers such as breast and prostate cancer that are incurable once they have metastasized, or spread, to bone.
“I teach students the way I wished I was taught in college — where I make it a point to engage the students in discussions, make the atmosphere comfortable for asking questions and giving input, and try to ensure that students have time to digest the material. My goal is to make sure biology is accessible to everyone.”
Inspired by her grandmother and emboldened by the unwavering support of her mother, Dr. Nikki Delk chose a career path aimed squarely at saving and improving lives affected by cancer.
“The reason I became a cancer researcher and the core reason for why cancer research is so important to me, is my grandmother, Jean Celestine Harris,” Delk said. “My grandmother died of brain cancer on the eve of what would be, 22 years later, the day I was awarded my doctorate. She was so kind, so patient, so wonderful, and she was taken from my family way too soon because of a horrid disease — cancer.”
Her research, supported in part by the National Institutes of Health, is focused on cancers such as breast and prostate cancer that are incurable once they have metastasized, or spread, to bone. She is particularly interested in the molecular mechanism underlying inflammation-induced breast and prostate cancer progression and treatment resistance, including the effect of inflammation on a cell-survival process called autophagy, in which a cell eats part of itself as a way of maintaining quality control and recycling cell contents.
“Understanding the basic biology behind how inflammation drives cancer can lead to the development of interventions or therapies that reduce cancer incidence or mortality,” Delk said.
Delk exhibits just as much enthusiasm for teaching as she does for research.
“I mentor and teach from a place of empathy and personal experience,” she said. “I model my mentoring style after the mentors that have had the most positive impact on my life and career. This includes empowering students to be independent and building their confidence, while keeping your hand on the helm to steer them in the best direction.”
“Because of the type of people UTD attracts, I have been able to put together a lab of motivated, intelligent, kind, ethical students that are committed to research, which is absolutely essential for a successful research program.”
Delk, a former U.S. Air Force captain, earned her bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Georgetown University and her PhD in biochemistry and cell biology from Rice University.