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Case study: Your Path in Research: Changing pace into research nursing

Liam Haslam, a Research Charge Nurse working at the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) and Clinical Research Facility (CRF) in Sheffield, tells us about his career in research.

How did you get into a career in research?

Immediately before I got involved in research I was working in surgical recovery. So post-surgical patients came to me anaesthetised and I would administer any immediate care they needed after they woke up. Before that I was employed in surgical assessment and critical care, I have always worked on the surgical side of things.

One of my colleagues saw the position in the Clinical Research Facility advertised and recommended it to me because they thought it suited my character. I think I’ve always come across as somebody who wants to delve a bit deeper into the nature of the medications, the diseases, and how treatments are developed. So I gave it a go.

What do you enjoy most about working in research?

I like having the opportunity to work with such a range of people. Everyone’s working towards the same goal, of developing new treatments for people with long term illness. There’s a sense of community within research; you all have very different roles, but are working towards the same thing.

There’s also the problem solving element to research – we have diseases, often without any treatment options, and we want to make people’s lives better. Research brings all the experts in the health service, university and industry together. We use the combined knowledge and skills and we work with our participants to develop new treatments. I like the problem solving aspect of that - we’ve got this issue, it’s a disease we don’t have any treatments for, where are we starting? I like that I can look back at all the research done  to get to this point, and being a small part of that pathway of discovery is really something.

What’s the most challenging aspect of working in research?

The protocols that we get through - especially the commercial protocols - are often very complex and require a lot of preparatory work, so you may have a visit coming up but you have to organise a lot of elements to make that visit happen which is very time consuming. You have to very much develop your prioritisation skills.

What are you working on now?

We’ve recently finished work on a study testing the potential of UDCA to slow down progression of Parkinson’s Disease, which was an important one for the BRC as it was kind of our flagship translational neurological trial and was sponsored and developed locally. It was really interesting to work on and there was a massive effort to make the trial work during the pandemic. There was a lot of communication between us as a team and the patients, frequent communication to make sure everyone was okay.

Another study we are currently running is looking at multiple sclerosis and whether we can use a movement sensor attached to the patient to assess disease progression or severity. Patients come in and have assessments including gait analysis using these sensors to try and develop a quantifiable way of assessing movement and whether we can use it as a biomarker for disease progression or even, eventually, diagnosis.

I work on a lot of other studies looking into Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis, and then some more obscure or rare diseases around neuromuscular degeneration such as myasthenia gravis, CIDP, Duchene muscular dystrophy - it’s quite a big portfolio!

What advice would you give to someone hoping to start a career in research?

I’d definitely recommend giving it a go because it’s an area of healthcare you can really get enthusiastic about. Anyone who has a bit of an inquisitive mind and wants to learn will find themselves well suited to research. You have to be prepared for a lot more self-directed working, a lot of learning, and for seeing less patients - but being a lot more involved with the patients that you do see.

Interested in a career in research?

Find out about the benefits of research and how to get involved via the Your Path in Research webpage