‘I’d love to help find a cure for cancer’

Jessica Taylor works as a research nurse at the NIHR/Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Facility, Cambridge. She talks to us about her role and looking after people who take part in research.

Jessica, tell us about your role as a research nurse...
I work within the Cambridge Clinical Research Facility (CRF). A key aspect of my role is to support research teams with the clinical responsibilities required for their studies when they take place within our unit. This promotes a varied role since each study is diverse and may require assistance with a number of interventions from the recording of vital signs to the co-administration of a study medication.

How long have you worked here?
I’ve been based at the CRF since March 2015, and have been a nurse since 2010, with my background primarily in critical care. I trained as a nurse here at Cambridge University Hospitals and decided to stay in Cambridge because it’s a really good teaching hospital with a matching reputation.

What does your role involve?
A majority of our work as CRF research nurses involves carrying out study specific clinical procedures on and with healthy volunteers or patients who have consented to take part in a clinical research study or trial. Research nurses are integral to the unit since we provide care and support for those participating as well as providing the study specific treatments or interventions.

We have a high number of studies with increasing complexity.  We therefore work by a document called a ‘flowsheet’. The ‘flowsheets’ are created by the CRF nursing staff. We summarise the key study requirements with regards to design, health and safety and staff roles.  Essentially, it comprises the crucial information that we on the CRF need to know and that we follow so that a study visit is carried out safely and according to the research protocol.

We have a variety of studies at the CRF from a wide range of medical specialties such as cancer or metabolic science. Each day is different since each study varies from another and may require several procedures from administrating a study drug or conducting an electrocardiogram (ECG) which monitors your heartbeat. One day it could be a cancer study and another day could be for a child taking part in a diabetes study. On some days I might care for several patients and several studies and on other days I might have a study that requires a nurse to be with the patient for the entire time. As mentioned previously, the studies have research teams. Several research meetings are held with them to discuss and determine what their study entails or what we need to get ready for the study before it is  done within the CRF.

Why were you interested in becoming a research nurse?
As a student nurse I did a work placement within the Cambridge CRF, which I really enjoyed. I like knowing what our future might hold - for new treatments for the next generation, as well as seeing if there are going to be cures for certain diseases. I always think research is that next level of care. If we didn’t have research we wouldn’t have the next treatment available.

As a research nurse, why is your role so important?
I see the research facility as the middle man. The research nurses are important because we’re the ‘doers’ who carry out most of the interventions to collect the data that the researchers need.  Without our role the researchers may not have a support system for collecting their data and subsequent results. We aid in testing and finding a new evidence base and are at the forefront of helping to aim to find new cures in diseases.

Have there been any research studies that you’ve enjoyed working on?
I’ve enjoyed all of the research studies I have worked on, in particular cancer studies since they are really interesting and challenging. We have a regular stream of new studies coming through our doors, which is great. Personally I would love to help find a cure for cancer, it would be amazing.

Why should people take part in research?
If we don’t have people taking part in the research then we can’t really see whether or not that drug or treatment is beneficial. We require study participants to be able to see whether something needs amending or adjusting. Often a research study leads to further questions that have to be explored through more research. It’s all about whether or not the outcome of what we’re testing is beneficial.

Some people are nervous about taking part in medical research, what actually happens at the CRF?
At the CRF nurses are on the unit at all times. All our staff are experienced in carrying out study procedures. Someone is always with the person taking part, either the study team or a research nurse. Participants are never on their own and everything is carefully explained.

Being part of a research study doesn’t necessarily mean taking a new drug. It could be giving a blood sample or a particular process in the body being observed.

It’s really encouraging to get involved, and all our volunteers are risk assessed to make sure they are going to be as safe as possible before they are allowed to take part. Safety of volunteers is a top priority.  We have strict exclusion criteria.   

Can only healthy volunteers take part?
It depends on the study. We have studies specifically for people who have a particular illness. There are some for people who don’t have any medical conditions and some are a mix where the researchers study people with a particular disease and compare the findings with those of people who do not have the disease.

If people want to get involved in research, who should they contact?
We try to encourage more people to get involved in research. The CRF provides information leaflets within the unit. If people are interested in taking part in a study for a particular disease, individuals can ask their GP or Consultant to consider any trials or studies that may be suitable. There is information on the Cambridge CRF website, too. The NIHR Cambridge BioResource is another great place to sign up or ask for more information.

Is there any up and coming news?
The Addenbrooke’s Clinical Research Centre (ACRC) where we are based is expanding, which means the CRF will also expand. In fact you can see our new expansion being built as we speak. Once this is ready, we will then be hosting more clinical studies here and will have more room for volunteers to take part. It will also mean that we are going to employ more research nurses. It will be really exciting to see what will happen in the next few years.

What do you do in your spare time?
My interests include walking my two pugs Peppa and Dougie, cooking, boating in the summer, socialising with family and friends and reading research papers. 

What would be your dream job?
I love this job. I wouldn’t want to do anything different. You come in one day and work on one study and the next day will be completely different. It’s an amazing place, to know we’re making a difference to medicine and treatments of the future. If I couldn’t do this job though, I love pugs, so I would have my own pug rehoming sanctuary.

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