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Champion for paediatric research leaves role

Nicolene with colleagues.

Nicolene Plaatjies, Paediatric Research Champion for CRN North Thames, will have her last working day on August 23, following almost five years in the position.

Nicolene, who is also a Senior Research Nurse at Barts Health NHS Trust, has been responsible for promoting paediatric research within the region by working with partner organisations, CRN colleagues and other stakeholders. Working across the full spectrum of diseases affecting children, she identifies issues with studies as early as possible and creates solutions to enable research to flourish.

Some of her notable achievements include supporting a manager at University College London Hospitals (UCLH) to recruit and support a children’s research nurse at the site. As a result of Nicolene's passion for research and understanding of the challenges that can surround paediatric research, they now have an expanding team and growing list of active studies. Nicolene also supported The Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust to recruit and support a children’s research nurse at the site, which gave the trust the opportunity to participate in children’s medicine studies. As Nicolene had honorary contracts for both hospitals, she was able to further support the research nurses by covering their leave. She also identified a Principal Investigator (PI) for North Middlesex University Hospital. The site had been struggling to find a PI and, due to this, had little research activity. Nicolene undertook a thorough process of first identifying a suitable candidate and then supporting the new PI in their role.

Nicolene's passion and commitment to improving the lives of children and young people has always been evident. She moved from her native South Africa to the UK in 1999 where she started work as a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Barts Health. After 10 rewarding years in NICU, she decided to pursue a different challenge and applied for a gastrointestinal (GI) research nurse post for which she was successful. “I had no previous research experience, so I had to learn a lot of new information, terminology, and abbreviations," she said.

After this first research role gave Nicolene her grounding in the field, she then joined the Medicines for Children Research Network as a senior research nurse in 2012. During this time, she also completed a MRes in Clinical Research at City University of London. Working with and under the guidance of Nicholas Croft, Professor of Clinical Paediatric Gastroenterology at Barts Health and Queen Mary University of London, Nicolene established the Barts self-funded Children's Clinical Research Facility (CCRF), which she is still an integral part of today as a senior research nurse. “As a CCRF, in addition to the wide variety of research we are involved in, we also accommodate student nurses. Two of the previous student nurses we had on placement have since become research nurses, which is great," she added.

Earlier this year, NIHR announced it would be funding 28 CRFs, which support the delivery of early translational and experimental medicine research, from studies testing new treatments in patients for the very first time (first-in-human trials) through to early safety and efficacy trials (Phase IIa trials). Barts was one recipient of the funding. Nicolene said: “This is a dream of mine, and it's a really exciting time for clinical research in our trust."

Nicolene is leaving her role with CRN North Thames to focus fully on her work with the Barts CCRF. Commenting on her departure from her role as Paediatric Research Champion, Nicolene explained: “I have loved working with the CRN and all the teams across North Thames. I highly recommend the job - it has been an amazing experience for me.

“I would especially like to thank Caroline Williams, Research Delivery Manager at CRN North Thames, CRN North Thames deputy Clinical Director, Dr Paul Fleming, and former CRN North Thames Research Delivery Manager, Dawn Beaumont-Jewell, who have all been a huge help to me in this role."

Caroline Williams explained why Nicolene would be missed. She said: “It's been an absolute joy working alongside Nicolene in her role as Paediatric Research Champion at CRN North Thames. Nicolene's uniquely warm and personable approach has brought together a community of research staff supporting the Children's portfolio and she has provided invaluable insight and understanding to our CRN core team about how children's services are delivered across the wider region. This impact has been demonstrated not only within the NHS but reaching out to successfully deliver research within the community too. I am honoured to have had the opportunity to have worked alongside Nicolene and to see her projects and ideas come to fruition - she is the true embodiment of a modern-day champion.”

From left to right: Caroline Williams, Dawn Beaumont-Jewell, Nicolene Plaatjies and Dr Paul Fleming.