In honor of our 10th anniversary, we are presenting this spotlight on Kristina Cotter, MS, PhD, CGC, who is the Research Director at RDMD.
Tell us about your research (assume we know nothing).
I manage a portfolio of research projects at a company that focuses on rare disease research. I use real world data, or data collected outside of a clinical trial, to improve our understanding of rare diseases and to help design clinical trials. Rare diseases like CDD are rare, which means there are very few patients spread across the world. This can make it challenging to research how a rare disease progresses over time and how it is treated globally, which in turn makes it difficult to know whether a new treatment is working. There is a lot of valuable information captured during routine clinical care, and my work focuses on developing best practices for using the data present in medical records to enable natural history studies, treatment outcomes studies, and to support clinical trial design.
What interests you most about your area of study?
This is an exciting time for rare disease research, because so many advances in therapeutic technologies have been made in recent years. This makes it more important than ever that we find ways to collect robust data in rare diseases so that we can design effective clinical trials and really understand whether new therapies are working. I love finding new ways to use technology and work collaboratively to make this possible, especially since it has traditionally been so difficult to conduct rare disease clinical research. Additionally, my research allows me to work with lots of stakeholders – patients, patient foundations, researchers, and biopharmaceutical companies – and this is really exciting to me. Rare disease research is tough – we need all hands on deck, and I love incorporating different perspectives into my work to make sure the research is as strong as possible.
When was the moment you first fell in love with science/medicine?
I have fallen in love with science and medicine many times! My youngest sister was diagnosed with CDD in the early 2000s after living with a clinical diagnosis of Rett Syndrome for many years. Throughout my family’s journey, I really admired everyone involved in working to keep my sister healthy, and this inspired me to start exploring a career in medicine so I could help families like mine. As I got older and started taking biology classes, I became fascinated by drug development. I loved learning about how we could take advantage of DNA, proteins, and signaling pathways to prevent, stop, or reverse disease. I still find it endlessly fascinating – it’s like a big puzzle! After college, I decided to pursue a PhD in Molecular Biology so I could learn more about developing therapies to treat diseases. This work made me want to get more directly involved in patient care and clinical research so I could help families like mine, and so I studied to become a genetic counselor. My research and clinical training led me to my current career as a rare disease clinical researcher, where I honestly fall in love with science everyday. There are just so many interesting questions to answer, and I love that everyone involved in rare disease research is so passionate about making a difference in the lives of patients.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
When I am not working, I love to travel with my husband, find new adventures and good restaurants around our home in Northern California, and play with my very loud and energetic cat, Logan. I also grew up on Cape Cod, so I love to find time to head to the beach with a good book when I can!