My name is Theo Knott and I am a Sixth Form student in Year 12 at Tiffin School, in Kingston-upon-Thames. I was exceptionally lucky to secure a work experience placement in the Research and Development Department of Guy’s and St Thomas’. I was intrigued to see how such a large research facility runs and the different types of biomedical research taking place. I am fascinated by Biology and Chemistry and I am currently studying them at A-level, along with Geography. I am currently aiming to study either a Biomedical Sciences or a Biochemistry degree at university.
I started off my work experience by learning about different types of research, such as Non-Commercial Research which encompasses a large proportion of the research carried out at Guy’s and St Thomas’. The BRC is a collaboration between Guy’s and St Thomas’ and King’s College London, so many research projects are sponsored by King’s and funded by organisations such as charities. An example I looked at is being funded by the British Heart Foundation and I was able to read a protocol for an investigation on dyslipidaemia (abnormal levels of circulating lipids in the blood), which can cause atherosclerosis, a form of cardiovascular disease. This was very interesting, as it is above my A-level knowledge but I understood the need for the investigation and it prompted me to research further into the subject.
The next day I was able to be part of the Clinical Research Facility team to observe the ongoing cancer trials. This really opened my eyes to the importance of Clinical Trials as they are a vital part of research and ground-breaking findings can be discovered in this way. I also observed high tech equipment used in the trials, such as the centrifuge which separates patients’ blood into the light plasma and white blood cells from the heavier red blood cells which was very interesting. In addition, I was taught about the importance of keeping equipment up to date. Patients and doctors rely on daily checks of the floors being conducted so there is no faulty equipment, such as defibrillators or adrenaline pens, which could have to be used to save a patient’s life.
The following days I was able to observe and shadow other important departments, such as the Immunology Department, Diabetes and Endocrinology Clinic and Flow Cytometry Department. Immunology is a topic I am very interested in and might specialise in at university. The Immunology Department at King’s focuses specifically on asthma and allergies, which was very intriguing to me as I have a severe allergy to nuts. I was able to hear about the important studies involving the immune system to prevent and reduce allergy to nuts. I was surprised by how promising some of the research looks and this further highlighted to me how important clinical trials are as it would change my life to not have to worry as much about nuts.
Shadowing in the Diabetes and Endocrinology Clinic, I was able to look at Commercial Research sponsored by a pharmaceutical company to investigate a new drug on the immune response of patients who had recently been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. I was also able to understand how a trial is run in this clinic and observe a patient being consulted, examined and tested, watching a nurse take 2 vials of blood from the patient.
Finally, shadowing the Flow Cytometry labs I learned how they apply the immune response to analyse and sort samples placed in Flow cytometry machines. They use biomarkers, which are antibodies that attach to a specific antigen on a cell. The antibodies then associate with fluorochromes and generate a colour, producing an image or graphs with percentages of the biomarkers in the sample. I was aware of the immune system beforehand but this showed me an important application of the mechanisms in immunology. I was also exposed to the financial, statistical and communications aspect of the centre and I can now see how all the departments link together and work to create the best possible research.
This placement was absolutely perfect for me, not only for my future career prospects but to also to see what sparks my interest most in the vast range of research being carried out. I have been inspired by the hard work and dedication of the researchers and other staff in the areas I have visited and am extremely grateful for the time they have spent with me; it has been a fascinating week.