Dr. Rodney DeKoter has always been fascinated by the immune system. “It has incredible complexity and intricate machinery,” he says. “To me, that complexity speaks of a God that cares for the tiny details.”
DeKoter, a professor in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology at Western University, is unravelling the mechanisms that regulate our immune system’s development. In particular, he is studying the mistakes in genetic code, known as mutations, that can lead to leukemia. The goal of his studies is to seek out the mechanisms that explain the mutation process. Dr. DeKoter’s research is funded by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada, Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC). This important cancer research and the knowledge Dr. DeKoter uncovers will lead other scientists to develop the next generation of anti-cancer drugs.
“My Christian upbringing and education have given me a deep sense that God is in charge of the laws that govern nature and that he cares deeply for creation.”
For Rod, his work is tough, yet rewarding. “Academic work is not easy,” he explains. “Professors, of course, know this but it is hard for others to understand when they see us sitting in comfortable chairs and well-equipped offices. When you are a scientist, there is constant failure — experiments don’t work, grant funding is denied, papers are rejected.”
Small successes are also constant. “I love seeing success in my trainees — when they are accepted to a school of their choice, when they get a good job or when they win a prestigious scholarship,” DeKoter continues. “I love participating in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada’s Light the Night walk, during which I meet leukemia patients and their families and see the people whose lives will be impacted by my research.”
DeKoter began working towards a career in medicine and research at Redeemer. “It will come as no surprise that I loved my biology and chemistry classes with Dr. Jitse van der Meer and Dr. Henry Brouwer. I did an independent microbiology study where I worked closely with Prof. Ron van der Heiden and I loved every minute of it!” Outside of his classes, DeKoter played keyboard in the band Maximum Entropy. “We practised for three years and did one culminating concert,” DeKoter recalls. “It was a highlight of my years at Redeemer!”
During his summer job as a data clerk at the Multi-Organ Transplant Program at London Health Sciences’ University Hospital, Rod’s interest in immunology was sparked. By the time he graduated, DeKoter was certain that he wanted to become a scientist. In 1988, DeKoter graduated with a Bachelor of Christian Education as part of Redeemer’s third-ever graduating class.
He went on to earn an honours bachelor of science from Western University followed by a PhD, which he completed in 1996. DeKoter then completed five years of postdoctoral work at the University of Chicago before getting his first assistant professor position at the University of Cincinnati in 2001, where he stayed until 2009. Since then, he has been teaching at Western University and, this year, was promoted to full professor. Throughout his years of teaching, Dr. DeKoter has helped to train undergraduate and graduate students and credits them with being the drivers behind his research.
Dr. DeKoter is a strong advocate for Christian education. In addition to being taught from a Christian perspective at Redeemer, DeKoter also attended Christian elementary and secondary schools. It was through these experiences that Rod developed a strong tie between his vocational interests and his faith. “My Christian upbringing and education have given me a deep sense that God is in charge of the laws that govern nature and that he cares deeply for creation. Because of this, I am driven to discover the biological constants that explain how we are alive.”