Education and Training
Dr. van der Plas completed her Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology at Leiden University in the Netherlands in 2005. Having discovered a keen interest in brain development, Dr. van der Plas completed a Master of Philosophy degree in Developmental Psychology at Leiden University in 2007. She subsequently earned her PhD in Neuroscience from the University of Iowa in 2011. Her graduate research was focused on brain development in kids born with craniofacial anomalies. Dr. van der Plas lived in Canada from 2011 to 2017 to complete postdoctoral training at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. At this time, her research interest in childhood cancer began to take shape. In 2017, she moved back to Iowa to join the faculty of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Iowa Hospital & Clinics. One of her most important achievements in Iowa was her pilot research showing that young kids with cancer can go into a scanner without sedation and provide quality data. Dr. van der Plas is currently an Associate Professor of Hematology/Oncology at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. Her goal is to make everyone aware of the importance of brain development and function in kids who require treatment for cancer or other chronic medical conditions. When she is not thinking of brain development, Dr. van der Plas enjoys spending time with her family, going on hikes and exercising.
The goal of Dr. van der Plas’ research is to ensure that childhood cancer survivors enjoy the same quality of life as their cancer-free peers. Unlike decades ago, most kids with leukemia will be cured. Unfortunately, many survivors have problems after cancer that are called ‘late effects’. The term late effects can include physical and mental health. While we often know how to address physical conditions, much less is known on how to help survivors with mental health problems. The van der Plas lab focuses on mental health and, more specifically, neurocognitive late effects of childhood cancer. ‘Neuro’ refers to the brain, and ‘cognitive’ refers to brain function, or thinking abilities.
Her research has shown that childhood leukemia survivors have difficulties with tasks that require them to keep multiple things in mind, or to concentrate. Using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Dr. van der Plas’ research also showed that there are subtle differences between the brains of survivors and their cancer-free peers. Moreover, these brain differences helped explain some of the cognitive difficulties survivors were experiencing. The goal of Dr. van der Plas’ current research is to use MRI for identifying signs or symptoms of abnormal brain development during treatment for leukemia. If we know what to look out for when kids undergo treatment, we may be able to prevent neurocognitive late effects. The hope is that this knowledge will bring us a step closer to the main goal of our research: ensuring high quality of life after childhood cancer.
Dr. van der Plas is actively involved in various groups that prioritize late effects of childhood cancer, including Children’s Oncology Group (COG), the International Guideline Harmonization Group (IGHG), and the Childhood Cancer Survivor Cohort (CCSS). She is the Silo Leader of the Neurocognitive Task Force of COG where she coordinates large literature reviews for developing guidelines for clinicians who take care of long-term childhood cancer survivors. Likewise, she is a working group leader for IGHG where her group focuses on gathering evidence that helps identify survivors who are at high risk for neurocognitive late effects. In her role as member of the Publication Committee of CCSS, Dr. van der Plas advises on research proposals that aim to use the CCSS database
Dr. van der Plas has received funding from the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, and the Canadian Cancer Society.