International Day of Women & Girls in Science
“I’ve seen over 15 years the difference these studies actually make, they make life changing differences to families in the future, so if we don’t do research in young people and children then we’re not going to have new treatments for the future.”
“I think a lot of people hear the science bit or even the research bit and just think it’s boring, they don’t know what’s involved and don’t see the huge impact research can have in the long run!”
Today is International Women in Science Day and last week our Fundraising Officer Emily
spoke with the research nurses who supported her when she was having treatment for
Neuroblastoma Cancer from 14 years old.
The following fabulous ladies discuss what they do in their roles within Royal Aberdeen
Maggie Connon – Lead Research Nurse
Catriona Ward – Band 5 Research Nurse
Carla Kierulff – Children’s Cancer Research Nurse
Did you go to university? If so, what did you study?
Carla: We are all from a nursing background, I began with a Batchelors degree in nursing and then went on to specialise in nursing children and young people with cancer.
Maggie: I am the same. I first studied nursing, I then went into oncology research and studied a few modules within that. From then on, it’s training that is specific to each study you are working on and very on-the-job training. I am now lead research nurse on basically all illnesses bar Oncology, for example respiratory, renal, surgical, diabetes and epilepsy.
How long have you worked in that role?
Carla: Nearly 4 years
Cat: Week 2! (when interviewed) Maggie: 10-14 years!!!
What do you do in your role day to day?
Maggie: We facilitate research projects, for example you have a consultant who is interested in learning a new way of treating children with type one diabetes. They come up with a hypothesis of seeing if we can prolong the honeymoon period of diabetes. They come up with this hypothesis, they write the protocol, get funding for it and then they approach different centres throughout the UK to see if they want to be part of the research study. The doctors in the different centres say, ‘yes I’d be interested in doing that research study’ and then those doctors (for example Dr Mayo in RACH) would come to me and say, “Maggie I’ve got this research study that I want to do, I want to be part of, how can you help me”, so we then offer our support in looking for patients and speaking to patients about the study. Say the patients have to come for seven visits over two years, we would manage that patient pathway and would make sure that everything the doctor complied with the protocol was done, so we would take the blood samples and would arrange the doctors to come for those visits. We basically manage the research studies, facilitate the research and support doctors in manging the trial.
Carla: My role is fairly similar but focusing solely on Oncology. We do a few haematology studies as well, but our research is probably slightly different because we don’t have to find patients as we work on the Medical Ward. Meeting families when a child is first diagnosed, is quite difficult because families have enough on their mind without us coming in and asking if they will participate in research. Unfortunately, the samples are more valuable if you do get them at the start. We’re lucky that our doctors are so good and will speak about it at the start and then if there’s an interest, I’ll go in and speak to the family. Obviously not pressurising them, they don’t have to take part in research, but everyone should know that there’s research available. I think some people would be upset if we didn’t offer it at the start, so yeah, it’s a balance.
Emily: From memory, I remember you guys coming from the point of view of, this will help other children and other families going through the same thing in the future. The lifesaving trials I have been on would not have been around if it wasn’t for research!
Maggie: I’ve seen over 15 years the difference these studies actually make, they make life changing differences to families in the future, so if we don’t do research in young people and children then we’re not going to have new treatments for the future.
Have you experienced any barriers in your fields?
Maggie: Not really as we have all came from nursing backgrounds.
Carla: I think a lot of people hear the science bit or even the research bit and just think it’s boring, they don’t know what’s involved and don’t see the huge impact research can have in the long run!
Maggie: Yes, a lot of people don’t know what we do!
Do you spend much time in the labs?
Maggie: We do we do quite a lot of spinning samples and freezing samples. For some of our drug studies (pharmacokinetics studies) we’re looking at what these drugs do to the body and what the body does to these drugs, so for example there are diabetic studies where we do two hour visits and we give the young person a sugary drink and then take blood samples at certain time points afterwards to see if effects on their blood sugars allies evidence for whether the medicine that we’re giving them is working or not. So, we do spend a few hectic hours and Carla is the same, running up down the stairs, spinning samples and sending them to different labs around the world where they can look at the results, which then informs whether the research is effective or not.
Carla: So likewise, Emily, you’ve had blood taken for research, so you probably think all your samples get sent away, but you get two samples taken, one gets processed upstairs and spun down to plasma and then frozen at -80 degrees. The other sample gets transferred once a year down to Newcastle and they have a lab of samples there in plasma because a lot of the scientists find the plasma more useful to work with. In Oncology, we spin blood and also spin urine, for some of our renal tumours. We also spin CSF – Cerebrospinal fluid. You were speaking about your concentration and memory earlier, we have a study just now that is looking at the effects of chemo in our leukemic patients. So, when they’re getting their lumber punctures to see if they have any leukemic cells, we spin the CSF and take a little bit of extra CSF to then computer test them, because they’re trying to see if there are any changes. We do this all from a little lab on the 3rd floor! Which is very helpful for me as its only one floor up from the medical ward and a lot of the samples have to be span within ten minutes.
Maggie: In paediatrics we really cover everything, and it really is such a varied and rewarding job.
Emily: Well, thank you so much guys, I have learnt so much and I thought I knew a lot!!
A huge ARCHIE thank you to Maggie, Cat and Carla for chatting about their extremely interesting and vital roles within Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital!!