Black History Month Spotlight: Folashade Otegbeye, MBChB, MPH

ASTCT asked Folashade Otegbeye, MBChB, MPH, questions about what it is like to be a a person of color in the transplantation and cellular therapy field in celebration of Black History Month, February 2022.

What inspired you to enter the BMT and Cellular Therapy field?

I developed a keen interest in immunology during my first few years of medical school. By the time I decided on an oncology career, I knew I wanted a practice, both research and clinical, that explored immunology as a treatment approach. I recall discussing this interest with Dr. Marcos de Lima while interviewing for hematology and oncology fellowship training at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland Ohio. He pointed out how central immunobiology is to the application of hematopoietic cell transplant and shared his vision for cellular immunotherapy at the institution. His enthusiastic support for this career path both as my mentor and program leader, tremendously facilitated our development of an investigator-initiated, allogeneic natural killer cell therapy program. My experience validating our preclinical manufacturing into the cGMP setting for a clinical trial prompted me to an expertise in process development, regulation and quality standards applicable to cell therapy product manufacturing. This expertise is now manifest in my current role as the Facility Director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Therapeutic Products Program, as well as my external efforts through the ASTCT Committee on Cell Therapy and the FACT Cell Therapy Accreditation Committee.

How do you inspire others?

Throughout my fellowship training, followed by the first 5 years in practice, my approach to clinical practice was highly inspired by Dr. Brenda Cooper. Observing her dedication to delivering exceptional care and continuous personal development was perhaps the strongest form of mentoring I have experienced in my clinical practice. As such, I try to inspire others by setting similar examples for trainees and members of my clinical and research teams.

With my patients and their caregivers, I am always empathetic with their sense of helplessness in very trying circumstances, compounded by limited understanding of disease and treatment mechanisms. To help allay this situation, I ensure I set aside appropriate time for each patient to review their clinical diagnosis and plan of care at every transition point in as simple terms as possible. Whenever possible, I also ensure that trainees and/or other team members are present during these discussions so they can learn from my approach.

Last but not least, I have enjoyed opportunities to teach high school and undergraduate students about cancer immunotherapy over the past six years. As a result, I have been privileged to mentor several of these students into careers in science and medicine. 

What does it mean to you to be a person of color in this field?

I feel very privileged as a Black woman in the transplant and cell therapy community. Over the years, several patients have expressed to me their appreciation of my care, often because of a sense of shared experience that translates into mutual trust. I have also been honored to hear other persons of color express newfound belief that they or their loved ones can forge similar career paths. There have been several opportunities for me to share from my training and practice experience with under-represented minority students.

Though we are not many, I am inspired by the growing community of exceptional researchers and clinicians in the field who are also persons of color. These include Drs. Rayne Rouce, Melody Smith, Eneida Nemecek and Brandon Blue, just to name a few. I am also appreciative of efforts by the ASTCT Committee on Diversity & Inclusion, supported by ASTCT leadership, targeted at fostering the development of underrepresented minority investigators in the field.


About Folashade Otegbeye, MBChB, MPH:

Dr. Shade Otegbeye is an Associate Professor at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (Fred Hutch) and the University of Washington School of Medicine, Division of Medical Oncology, in Seattle Washington. She is the Facility Director of the Therapeutic Products Program at Fred Hutch where she oversees the manufacture of immune effector cell products and other biologic agents according to cGMP regulations and cell therapy quality standards. She is an Attending Physician on the hematopoietic cell transplant and cellular immunotherapy service at the University of Washington and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

At ASTCT, Dr. Otegbeye serves on the Cell Therapy Committee and the Diversity & Inclusion Committee. She has volunteered as a Clinical and Immune Effector Cell Program inspector with FACT since 2016 and is now a member of the FACT Cellular Therapy Accreditation Committee.

Tags: transplantation, Cellular therapy, cell therapy, Black History Month, celebration, BHM