center profile: dr. allison de wispelaere

Today we have the privilege of introducing you to Dr. Allison De Wispelaere – a Post Doctoral Research Fellow at the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research. The last time I bumped into Allison at the Center, she was in the midst of applying for a “L’Oreal Women of Science” grant. Naturally I asked her if you have to be a model to apply – to which she laughed and said no. But my question wasn’t off the mark if you ever have a chance to meet her in person. Here is Dr. De Wispelaere in her own words…

Dr. Allison De Wispelaere
Post-doctoral Research Fellow

Can you give us a brief summary of what your role is at the Center? What do you do?

In Dr. Jensen’s Lab, I am leading a project that will ensure the immunotherapy treatments created by others in our group are safe for our patients. The system that I am developing will allow the patient’s doctor to control how our therapies behave in the patient even after administration. This requires a combination of literature study, design of possible control mechanisms using powerful software and creating this system at my laboratory bench. Finally, potential systems undergo rigorous testing using our well-established cell culture and animal model systems.

Why or how did you get into this line of work? What motivates you in your work at the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research?

For the past 10 years, I studied the cardiovascular system to understand how blood vessels change in response to injury. Near the end of my PhD studies in the School of Medicine at the University of Washington the daughter of a close friend was diagnosed with cancer. Supporting them through the challenges of the treatment process changed the direction I wanted to go with my research. It was in the midst of her chemotherapy that I realized perhaps my training could be used to develop new cancer therapies that are safer for patients.

Aside from a personal connection to help make cancer treatments safe and effective, my motivation comes from really loving my career. Never is there a day that goes the same as the day before, each one presents new challenges and great successes as well as the occasional failure. When working with a team of intelligent and fun colleagues, as well as the support of a great Foundation behind your work, motivation is rarely an issue. However when there are difficult days, when experiments do not work as I had hoped or take more time to complete than I had anticipated, I  find my motivation by remembering the reasons why the BTCCCR exists and how the work I am involved with here might change the future of pediatric cancer therapy.

What do you find most rewarding in regards to your work at the Center? What do you find most challenging?

This Center is unique in that an academic research setting is combined with the resources of a strong foundation enabling the rapid advancement of projects into clinical trials. Such a quick timeline offers the opportunity for my project to be used clinically while I am still closely involved with the work. This is extremely rare for a PhD fellow and knowing that the things I am developing could be used to help a patient battle cancer is extremely powerful.

On the flipside, in such an environment being wrong about how a cell should be grown or a vector should be designed, has a greater impact than it does in other research environments that I have been a part of. This is because the development of therapies for children battling cancer are desperately needed.

What do you like to do when you arent at work? How do you spend your free time?

If I’m not in the lab, you could find me out for a run, trying to survive hot yoga sessions with Dr. Annette Kuenkele or sharing dinner with friends at the wonderful restaurants Seattle has to offer.  When we are able to sneak out of town for an entire weekend, my husband and I enjoy cabins in Hood Canal or the Cascade mountains and hike with our dog, Mollie.