In Profile: Whitney Block, NP
What is your background and role at the Center?
I am a clinical research nurse practitioner and Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) Center of Excellence lead study coordinator. I work with participants from all the studies at the Sean N. Parker Center for Allergy & Asthma Research at Stanford University. It's fun to work with patients every step of the way—from screening until follow-up!
I joined the Center in 2013. I previously worked at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a research nurse practitioner specializing in childhood obesity and fitness. I completed my accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program at Johns Hopkins University and my Masters of Science in Nursing, specializing in primary care pediatrics, at Vanderbilt University. I also have a Post Master's certificate allowing me to be a board certified family nurse practitioner. I connected with Dr. Kari Nadeau shortly after the CDC research study ended to continue in the field of clinical research.
I am thrilled to be a part of groundbreaking research exploring various forms of immunotherapy to not only find better treatments for children and adults with allergies, but also to discover underlying immune mechanisms against the disease and develop a lasting cure.
How did you get involved in the field of food allergies?
Growing up, I was never sick and didn't have any allergies. During my first year at Hopkins, I had recurrent sinusitis and went to see an ENT. The doctor asked if I was allergic to anything and when I said I wasn't, proceeded to ask me to be a 'healthy/nonallergic' control in a research study. I agreed to participate and it started with skin prick testing. She tested me for 18 environmental allergies. I couldn't believe it, but I was actually positive to 10 out of 18 allergens tested! I was so allergic that I couldn't be a healthy control! This first sparked my interest in the allergy field. I found out that the average age of onset of ocular allergies (like seasonally triggered conjunctivitis) was age 20 (so I wasn't super weird, just about average). My interest continued while in primary care pediatrics due to the fact that food allergies are becoming more prevalent. I saw food allergies in primary care and at the time could only say, "Go see the allergist" knowing that the allergist would just tell the patient to avoid the food. It's a rapidly changing field though, and some of the things I used to educate families about when I was in nursing school (not long ago) have now been determined to be incorrect. It's so cool to now be at the forefront of the new therapies and medical discoveries!
What is the most rewarding part of working for the Center?
At the beginning of a trial, I typically ask participants what they look forward to doing and/or eating. Most kids say things like traveling (especially overseas), summer camps, going to a college away from home, etc. The most satisfying part of my job is when I see the participants achieve their goals that they set up from the very beginning and travel to all the places they wanted to go.
What would you tell a teen who is considering participating in one of our clinical trials?
I would encourage any teen considering participation in one of our trials to connect with teens who have already been through it. Past participants will tell you that even though it's not always easy with dosing, it's totally worth it in the end.
Are there any school safety tips you want to share for teens or young adults suffering from food allergies?
Stanford is a FARE Center of Excellence. FARE is up-to-date with the research and publishes very easy to understand materials. I encourage people to read the Managing Food Allergies at School on the FARE site for tips and reminders. Even if you don't go to the website please remember: Epinephrine works—CARRY IT WITH YOU AT ALL TIMES!
Interview by Matthew Friend
Matthew Friend is a high school senior from Chicago. He has written extensively about his experience as a teen with food allergies and as an oral immunotherapy clinical trial graduate in Huffington Post and Stanford School of Medicine's SCOPE blog. He is also the guest editor of the Center's Fall 2015 Teen eNews edition where this article appeared. Read more about Matthew here.