Dr Lorna Fern Research and Development Co-ordinator at NCRI recently reached a milestone – she has worked for NCRI for 10 years! In our latest 60 second interview, we asked her how she became interested in science and what she enjoys about her role here at NCRI.
When did you first become interested in science?
I have always been geeky, my dad is an engineer and my mum is nosey, so it was inevitable that I would want to find out how things worked and make new discoveries! I got my first science kit from Santa Claus when I was about 9 years old. Once at secondary school I decided I wanted to be a pharmacologist designing new drugs for either cancer or asthma, two diseases which had impacted my family considerably. Despite going to Glasgow University to study Pharmacology a twist of fate meant that I ended up doing my honours degree in Molecular Biology during which time I became hooked on cancer. I went on to do an MSc in Oncology and Ph.D. in Oncology at Nottingham University which, coincidently was on telomeres and the long term effects of chemotherapy on the bone marrow.
How did you become involved with NCRI?
Back in 2006 when I applied for a role at NCRI, the Teenage and Young Adult Clinical Studies Group was a new group Chaired by Professor Jeremy Whelan, UCLH and they had secured funding from Teenage Cancer Trust for a full time Research and Development Co-ordinator to co-ordinate the work of the Group and lead on bespoke pieces of research.I had become interested in the needs of young people with cancer while working in the adult haematology transplant lab at Nottingham City Hospital. I liked that NCRI spanned the whole cancer research spectrum from prevention, early diagnosis, basic science, drug discovery, treatment and survivorship.
Could you tell us a little about your role?
My role is now predominately as a Health Services Researcher and I don’t do any lab work any longer. I Chair the Health Services Research Subgroup.I work across most workstreams within the TYA CSG and the main component of my role is to improve access to research and clinical trials for young people with cancer. I am also leading on two studies evaluating a two day residential programme for young people and the online needs of young people with cancer. I also work on the NIHR funded BRIGHTLIGHT study which is examining outcomes and costs associated with specialist care for young people. I lead on patient involvement for BRIGHTLIGHT and also the NCRI Teenage and Young Adult Clinical Studies Group. I am pleased to have been involved in securing research grants for approximately £2.6m since I started.
What do you most enjoy about your job?
I love the variability of being a researcher particularly working alongside young people as co-researchers and involving them with as much of the research process as we can.Young people have so much to offer us in terms of designing studies which are relevant to their outcomes and needs and it’s also rewarding knowing you can offer them something back in terms of teaching new skills. It’s a win win! I get excited by graphs and new data sets particularly when you have no idea what it’s going to show (most of the time).
What are you looking forward to most in the next 12 months?
We have an exciting project emerging out of the BRIGHTLIGHT study. We have received funding from the Wellcome Trust to create a performance about BRIGHTLIGHT results with Dr Brian Lobel and Contact Youth Group in Manchester. The play will be performed by young people including some participants of BRIGHTLIGHT and will tour England including the NCRI 2017 conference.