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ENT research team wins prestigious award

Fei Long (extreme right) and the ENT research team

Fei Long and the successful research team at the Royal National ENT and Eastman Dental Hospitals, part of University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH), have won recognition for their outstanding contribution to the NIHR portfolio of studies.

Winners of the ENT (ear-nose-throat) UK Foundation-NIHR Awards 2022 were announced at the BOARS (British Otorhinolaryngology & Allied Sciences Research Society) autumn meeting in York on 4 November.

Amongst a strong field of applicants, judges found Fei’s team to be most impressive, with successes in developing early career researchers, leading and recruiting to studies that are changing practice, and engaging with patients to inform them of new opportunities to participate in NIHR CRN clinical research.

Fei was invited to present her submission but goes to great lengths to credit success to the team.

The team, which consists of research audiologist Marina Forbes, research nurse Catherine Pengelly and research data manager, Bebela Kalala, was trained and guided by Fei since August 2021, and has gone from strength to strength.

Speaking of how it has evolved, Fei is extremely proud of what the team has achieved and cites the team’s development as one of the most rewarding aspects of her role. She says:

“The team were all new to research but seeing them grown into their new roles has been immensely rewarding.

“With support and training, the team has gone from supporting just one project, to independently leading research delivery on numerous studies in many different areas and sub-specialties.”

Fei also coordinates the Clinical Research Feasibility committee at the Royal National ENT and Eastman Dental Hospitals, which helps consider the practicalities of implementing studies. The team has supported 11 studies, some of which are historic, since they formed in August 2021 and recruited nearly 50 patients into studies.

The team are currently supporting research in several aspects of ENT, such as mobile audiology testing for cancer patients. Studies like this and another, into cochlear implant thresholds, will inform practice and potentially alter treatment pathways, to improve the care and outcomes for patients.

The team has successfully run single centre studies, but one of the largest trials supported, is the national MACRO trial, for which the team are the second highest recruiters nationally. The study examines whether surgery or long-term medication is more beneficial to patients with Chronic Rhinosinusitis.

The team’s successful recruitment was one of the aspects that impressed the award judges, as it provides access to research for a greater number of patients. The team have achieved this by engaging closely with clinical colleagues and exploring new methods of screening patients for research opportunities.

The benefit to patients is in fact one of the things that most attracted Fei to research. Starting her career as a clinical nurse, she was made aware of training and NIHR funding to become a research nurse. She says:

“I loved the thought of applying research knowledge to real people in a real-world setting. Not just research in books, but with a real person I could meet now, in a way that benefited not just the patients in the study, but that could benefit future patients down the line.

“Usually in clinical nursing you see only one setting or aspect of a patient’s care, but in research you can follow patients through their whole pathway and feel much more involved in their care.”

After three years of being a CRN-funded research nurse, Fei had gained the solid experience needed to become a lead research nurse at Central North West University Healthcare NHS Trust. With the additional knowledge she gained there, she worked as a project manager in the Oxford Vaccine Group, and she was then able to secure her position as a Clinical Research Manager at UCLH. Fei says:

“It’s a career path that a lot of people follow, and it gives an excellent grounding to be active in supporting NIHR research and research run in the NHS. I am incredibly grateful to have had the support of the NIHR so early in my career, to give me the foundation I needed.”

Picture caption, from left to right: Catherine Pengelly, Bebela Kalala, Marina Forbes, Fei Long.