By Daniel Dunaief
Stony Brook University recently added a wife and husband team to its Pathology Department. Felicia Allard and Eric Yee are joining SBU from the University of Arkansas.
Allard and Yee will “replace an individual who had moved to a leadership position at another institution and to meet increased caseloads in surgical pathology and cytopathology,” Ken Shroyer, the chairman of the Pathology Department, explained in an email.
Times Beacon Record News Media will profile Allard and Yee over the next two weeks.
A self-described “mountain girl” from Colorado, where she attended medical school and met her husband Eric Yee, Felicia Allard had only been to Long Island three times before accepting a job at Stony Brook.
She came once when she was interviewing for a residency and twice during the interview process.
Allard and Yee accepted the jobs in the middle of February and weren’t able to look at potential homes during the height of the lockdown caused by COVID-19.
For now, the couple have moved into temporary housing in Port Jefferson Station, as they look for longer term living options.
Allard, who will be an Associate Professor at SBU, said the move started with Pathology Department Chair Ken Shroyer, who was looking to fill two positions and reached out to Yee.
Shroyer was involved in a type of cancer work that interested her.
“The active pancreatic cancer research group was a big draw for me as I am hoping to expand my research career,” Allard explained in an email.
Allard said she was particularly interested in pancreatic cancer, in large part because of its intractability and the poor prognosis for most patients.
“It was clear to me that this is one of the areas where we had a lot of work to do in terms of being able to offer any type of meaningful treatment to patients,” she said.
Allard said she, like so many others in the medical community, entered the field because she wanted to make a difference. She searched for areas where the “greatest good could be done, and pancreatic cancer is still one of those.”
In her initial research, she studied the pancreatic neoplasm, exploring how cells went from pre-invasive to invasive to metastatic conditions. She is interested in how the tumor interacts with the patient’s immune system.
While Allard will continue to provide clinical services, she plans to collaborate with Shroyer in his lab. “I’m hoping naturally to be integrating into Dr. Shroyer’s group,” Allard said.
Shroyer welcomed Allard to the department and to his research team.
Allard is “a highly-qualified surgical pathologist with subspecialty expertise in GI tract pathology,” Shroyer wrote in an email. “She has a specific interest in pancreatic cancer, which will also complement our translational research program,” he said.
Shroyer expects that Allard will be integrated into several cancer research programs and he is “looking forward to having her join my team that is focused on the validation of prognostic and predictive biomarkers for pancreatic cancer.”
Shroyer’s lab, which includes Luisa Escobar-Hoyos, who is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pathology, will work with Allard to advance the translational aspects of keratin 17 research, building on earlier work to understand the mechanisms through which K17 causes tumor aggression, he explained.
As for her clinical work, Allard said she analyzes biopsies and resections from the esophagus, stomach, intestines, liver, and pancreas. She has also used cytopathology to look at pap smears and to analyze salivary tumor aspirations.
The time to consider any of these slides varies broadly. Sometimes, she receives a slide and the diagnosis is unequivocal within 30 seconds. Other times, a biopsy from a six-month old patient with diarrhea, for example, can have an extensive list of differentials. In that case, the diagnosis can take considerably longer, as a baby could be sick because of an autoimmune disorder, inflammatory bowel disease or an infection.
She said she can “perseverate for hours or even days” over the subtle clues that may help with a diagnosis.
Allard likened the diagnostic process to reading a detective novel, in which the reader might figure out the perpetrator on page three, while other times, the culprit isn’t discovered until page 300.
Allard said she and her husband have a similar clinical background.
Yee is “more of a tech geek than I am,” she said. “He understands artificial intelligence, computer science and bioinformatics more than I do. He is also interested in administrative and leadership to a greater degree.”
Allard said she and Yee may have professional overlaps, but they have unique interests, backgrounds and perspectives that they bring to work that give them each different strengths.
Allard said she knew she wanted to go into medicine in her junior year of high school. When Doctors Without Borders won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999, she recalls being impressed with that distinction.
In medical school, she said the field of pathology appealed to her because she appreciated the marriage of clinical care and basic science in the field.
She and Yee started dating just before medical school started for her. Yee was two years ahead in school. They continued their relationship from a distance while he did his residency at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center at Harvard Medical School. While she was a resident, Allard said Yee had the “distinct pleasure of trying to train me.”
She likes to explore the boundaries of diagnosis to understand the nuances and all the data that factor into interpretations, to tease the art from the science.
Outside of her work, Allard enjoys reading and calls her Kindle one of her favorite possessions. She hopes to learn how to sail while a resident of Long Island.
Allard is excited to start working at Stony Brook. Shroyer was “very persistent and once he got us up to New York to interview, he was persuasive with respect to the type of career growth we could both potentially have,” she said.