‘In 10 years’ time you may benefit from research that is being done today’

National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Cambridge Clinical Research Facility research nurse Nick Fosh, talks to us why participating in research is so important.

Nick, tell us about your role

Nick Fosh

Research study teams apply to use our facilities and we help them plan and carry out what clinical procedures and nursing care they will need. As a research nurse at the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Cambridge Clinical Research Facility (CRF), I support study teams with the conduct of their studies. It could be anything from taking a blood sample to providing full nursing care. Some studies could be for half a morning, others could be for seven days.

How long have you worked here?

I’ve been at the CRF for ten months and have been a nurse for four years. I completed my nurse training at Stoke on Trent. The first job I applied for was at the Papworth Hospital Intensive Care Unit. I was there for two years and then this role came up and I moved over.

What does your role involve on a day-today basis?

The NIHR/Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Facility currently supports about 125 studies. Not all are active at the same time and the length of studies varies. No two days are ever the same for me. Day-to-day we come in and are allocated studies to look after. All studies have a ‘flow sheet’ that is written by the nurses. This is a guide to what the study needs when it takes place on the CRF. We go through them and work out what we’re going to be doing that day.

A study could ask for anything, for example, from full standard nursing care to administering drugs or processing blood samples. We’re all trained to use the centrifuge machines in our sample handling room (similar to a laboratory). This means when we have taken a blood sample, the researcher may have asked for the blood to be separated into different blood components which is done in a centrifuge. The machine spins the blood really fast and eventually separates certain components and we can remove the different parts that the researchers then will need for their analysis.

Why did you want to become a research nurse?

Research gives you a glimpse of what is in the pipeline and what is coming up. I’m diabetic and the number of things you see here could be the new treatments in 10 years.

It’s interesting to see but also a privilege to work with research volunteers. For some people who take part in research, it might be a last resort to treatment as everything their doctor has given hasn’t worked and they have been offered a trial. Many hope it will help them, but there is no guarantee for this. People also hope that it will make a difference to discovering new kinds of treatment for others. It’s a very selfless thing to do.

Why is the CRF important?

Without places like the Cambridge CRF and without research in general you can’t get advancements in health care. The CRF enables researchers to undertake their study in a safe, clinical environment and to explore if their theory works. Research also allows us to see if the current treatments are the best standard of care or can we be doing things differently that could benefit patients and the NHS. If you don’t challenge things you’re never going to move forward.

When will patients see the benefit of the research that takes place here?

It really depends on the study. If someone has an interventional study for their condition and currently they have been told there is nothing else that can be done for them, they may try a research trial and it might help their symptoms. If it’s purely observational then they are told there is no personal gain but something could come of it for the future. The research that is conducted here could look at new therapies like new insulin pumps for diabetics, but may not be available for 10-15 years.

How do volunteers help you with your research?

Volunteers play a huge part, even if they are just volunteering to have some measurements taken and stored as research data  as a reference point for future studies. We have a big study at the moment where we collect data of measurements of energy expenditure in healthy volunteers under standardised conditions. This can then be used to compare against measurements taken in studies in a range of metabolic disorders.

If people are volunteering to take part in a clinical research study, whether they have a condition or as a healthy volunteer, giving up their own time is a really selfless thing to do and they don’t get much formal recognition for it.

Why should people take part in research?

It might not be relevant to your time of life, but at some point you could be affected by any sort of condition or long term illness. If there were no-one volunteering to take part then we could never make sure that new treatments or medications are safe and work and we couldn’t go forward. Scientists and clinicians are making progress and breakthroughs all the time in research. In 10 years’ time you may benefit from the research that is being done today.

Are you allowed to withdraw from a study if you’ve changed your mind?

First and foremost, you are allowed to change your mind at any point of the study. We never force anyone to continue to take part even if we’ve already carried out procedures like blood tests and ECG’s (electrocardiograms). We don’t even need a reason why you no longer want to take part.

We’d always suggest, even if you’re curious about research, ask your GP or get some more information. If you’ve signed up to a study and are still unsure, here at the CRF we’re more than happy to give people a tour or talk to you if you have any concerns.

Signing a consent form is not a final commitment to take part. It means you have given consent to go forward with the study, but at any point – if you want – you can withdraw. We are a friendly bunch, we don’t make you do anything you don’t want to do. Even if it’s the middle of the night and you changed your mind, it’s absolutely fine to leave as long as it was safe to do so. It’s never a problem and will not affect your standard of care in the future.

Can only healthy volunteers take part?

Who can take part depends on what the study is about and what population the researcher needs to study. If someone has a condition and they attend a clinic they may want to talk to their health care professional and ask if there are any trials going on regarding their particular condition.

Some people joke that it may feel like they’re going to be a “human guinea pig”, but it’s of course nothing like it. We make sure you are comfortable and you’re fully aware of what is going to happen. We often hear the volunteers say,  ‘it’s like being in a hotel’, because we make sure everyone is looked after with food, drinks and nice entertainment. We like to make it a home-from-home experience. Especially when we have studies for children and it’s their first time in a hospital. We don’t want to give them an experience that’s going to put them off coming into hospital in the future. We try and make it as nice as it can be and parents can always be with the children in the clinical room.

If people want to get involved in research, who should they contact?

You can always talk to your GP for more information. Any time someone has a contact with a health professional you should be able to ask and they can point you in the right direction. They might, for example, use the ‘UK Clinical Trials Gateway’ website which provides information about clinical trials running in the UK. The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) website has lots of information and who to contact. You can always check the Cambridge CRF and Cambridge University Hospital Research & Development website for more information.

What would be your dream job?

I really enjoy my work. I love coming in every day and it’s really interesting. No day is the same. It doesn’t become mundane and keeps you on your toes.

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