Complexities of immune systems inspired research career

Rodney Dekoter smiles for the camera with a bright background.

A summer job as a file clerk at University Hospital in the multi-organ transplant unit charted the career path of Rodney DeKoter, PhD. Working with the renowned Dr. Calvin Stiller and a number of other transplant immunologists, DeKoter’s interest in immunology was piqued, leading him to pursue a PhD in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, Western University. It’s the complexity of the science that continues to keep him inspired.

“What caught me about the field was the complexity of the immune system,” said DeKoter. “While things are better understood now then when I was in my PhD, I’m still intrigued by the complexity of the system.”

Following his postdoctoral studies at the University of Chicago, and as a faculty member at the University of Cincinnati, DeKoter was recruited back to Schulich Medicine & Dentistry in 2009. He now serves as Associate Professor and Chair of Graduate Studies in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology.

DeKoter’s lab is focused on the development and function of B lymphocytes, or white blood cells. These cells are produced in bone marrow and ultimately become antibody secreting cells within the body. “During my postdoctoral fellowship, I became interested in what controls the development of these cells. They are responsible for a number of immune-regulatory roles along with their role making antibodies.”

The body produces large numbers of lymphocytes which divide rapidly. Any blocks in the development of lymphocytes can lead to immune deficiencies, while accelerated development can lead to leukemia. Half of DeKoter’s lab is working on studying B cell leukemia, funded by a two-year grant from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada.

DeKoter is focused on the future, and first on that path moving forward is the Diamond Jubilee Celebration of the Department, taking place on May 1. The full-day event will include a symposium featuring a number of keynote speakers, a wine and cheese reception and a celebratory dinner.

“There really is something for everyone at the Diamond Jubilee Celebration, not just alumni or current members of the Department,” said DeKoter. "The people presenting during the symposium are not just professors, but people working in the drug and pharmaceutical industry, people who have started their own businesses and even broadcasters.”

Keynote speakers will include Barbara Burleigh, associate professor, Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, Harvard School of Public Health, Malcolm Finkelman, director, Clinical Development, Associates of Cape Cod, Inc., Thalia Assuras, principal, Assuras Communications LLC and Brad Thompson, president and CEO, Oncolytics Biotech Inc. among many others.

DeKoter hinted at other enticing features, including some exciting announcements that may be made. “It doesn’t happen often that you get a chance to sit and reflect upon the history of your unit or department. I’m looking forward to celebrating all of the accomplishments we’ve made over 75 years, but also taking the time to convince everyone that we’ve got a really exciting future as well.”