Name: Dr. Karen Wilcox
Hometown: New Milford, NJ
Occupation: Department Chair at the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Utah, Principle Investigator of the Epilepsy Therapy Screening Program
Dr. Karen Wilcox is a professor and chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Utah, and the director of an anticonvulsant drug development program. When she’s not combing over new data with her students and postdoctoral trainees in the lab, she’s going to meetings, and trying to answer the copious emails she receives. This brainiac neuroscientist always knew that she had wanted to be involved in science, so that sort of a schedule is a dream come true.
“When I was a small girl, I wanted to be an archeologist. And then an influential high school science teacher got me interested in marine biology. Finally, a mentor I met in college taught me about neuroscience, and I knew I had found my calling. So as far back as I can remember, I have always had a sense that I wanted to be a scientist,” she explains.
After years honing her skills and becoming an esteemed researcher, she and her husband moved to Utah to follow a great career opportunity for him.
“It was a bit unclear whether I would find an academic position here,” she recalls. “I was lucky, but had to start in what is known as a research track assistant professor position, which meant that I was not in a more secure tenure line. Eventually I was able to be switched to the tenure line and that has helped with my career tremendously.”
Now she works to hire new faculty members for her department, and makes sure those eligible candidates ensure its long-term success. Beyond the scope of academia alone, she is the Principle Investigator for the contract site of the Epilepsy Therapy Screening Program.
“Just about all anti seizure drugs have been through our program,” Dr. Wilcox says, “so we are very proud of the fact that many of the medicines that are now available to patients with epilepsy have been through our program. When we test them for activity in our experiments, we are blinded to them so we can perform the experiments in an unbiased way. So I do not know which potential medicines we are currently working on!”
Fortunately, this contract for the program is NIH funded and has been at her university for over 40 years, though garnering funding for experiments is always a challenge. Nonetheless, Dr. Wilcox hopes that her experiments will continue to help those who suffer from epilepsy and that someday she and her team will either discover a cure or a way to prevent epilepsy in those patients at risk for developing it following a brain injury.
Beyond the lab, Dr. Wilcox explores the beautiful foothills of the Wasatch Mountains, soaking up the replenishing energy of nature with her husband and their newly adopted terrier, Milo. She also binge watches British detective shows, reads historical fiction novels, and gets her passport stamped as often as possible. “I love to travel to other countries, which my job lets me do!” she says.
For her tireless work researching, and running a department whose experiments and steadfastness help countless people suffering from epilepsy, and for enriching the lives and minds of her students and co-faculty, we think Dr. Karen Wilcox is a Cool Girl!
You can connect with Dr. Wilcox on twitter at @kswilcox
Or see more specifics on her lab and work on her faculty page on the University of Utah.