ASIP Highlights Session:
I Am An ASIP Member and This Is My Science
- Experimental Biology 2019 – Orlando FL
Pilar Alcaide, PhD
Department of Immunology
Tufts University School of Medicine
As a PhD-trained veterinary pathologist, my interests lie in the intersection of discovery, translational, and clinical research. I study comparative oncology, meaning cancers that occur in both animals and people. The old saying, “people resemble their pets” is quite true. One cancer that is quite similar in both dogs and people is lymphoma. Lymphoma, a cancer of immune cells in the blood, is a “liquid tumor” that can affect every organ in the body. Precisely how lymphoma picks which organs to invade has stumped physicians and scientists for decades.
My name is Pilar Alcaide and I am an Associate Professor of Immunology at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, MA. My career started with a Bachelor in Science degree at the University Autonoma of Madrid, Spain, followed by a PhD degree in Molecular Biology and Immunology in the same University. Funded by a Fulbright scholarship I went to the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Department of Pathology, to do postdoctoral training in Vascular Biology under the mentorship of Dr. Bill Luscinskas. He introduced me to ASIP. I first became a trainee member, and I later on took other roles in ASIP as my career evolved.
My research combines the areas of immunology and vascular biology to study chronic inflammation. We focus on identifying pathways of T cell activation and trafficking across the vascular endothelium in diseases and syndromes not conventionally thought to be immune mediated in nature. The main example is heart failure, the clinical manifestation of numerous forms of cardiovascular disease that is the predominant cause of mortality in the United States. We demonstrated that T cell infiltration in the mouse and in the human heart is associated with cardiac dysfunction in heart failure. A pathogenic role for T cells was further demonstrated in several studies that demonstrated that either depleting T cells or preventing them from reaching the heart, protects from non-ischemic heart failure. My laboratory studies why, how and where T cells become activated in heart failure, how do they traffic to the heart, and once there, how do they communicate with heart stromal cells to induce cardiac dysfunction. Being in academic science is fun, is rewarding, is enriching….and is challenging and requires a lot of hard work to balance several things at once. When I was a trainee and attended the ASIP annual meetings and listened to amazing talks by excellent speakers, and I always asked myself how they did it. How do you navigate the challenges to become a principal investigator while balancing your personal life? Looking back, a few years and three children later, I can say with confidence that the most important thing is to love and enjoy what you do. Once that box is checked, it is easier to be disciplined, to work hard and persevere, to manage time efficiently and be a team member, to be resilient and to listen and learn from the best. Being part of ASIP has made a difference in my career, has connected me with many peers from whom I have learned these important values to continue doing what I love.