At the NIHR Guy’s and St Thomas’ BRC, we regularly host work experience students to help inspire the next generation of biomedical and clinical researchers. One of our students, Lily Hassan, told us about her week in the department, and her favourite experiences from the week – learning about our nurse-led research and work on biomarkers.

My name is Lily Hassan, a work experience student at the NIHR Guy’s and St Thomas’ Biomedical Research Centre. Having thoroughly enjoyed Science at GCSE, my decision to take Maths and Science A Levels was made with no regrets: I would love to pursue a career in biomedical research in the future. My week in the research department has been instrumental in developing my interest in various aspects of research. Two of the most influential people I have spoken to during the week are Clair Harris and Shaun Cochrane, who were extremely welcoming and displayed a great passion for their areas of expertise.

Upon meeting Clair Harris, I was instantly fascinated by her role as the head of research workforce and was engrossed in conversation as we walked from Guy’s Hospital to the Evelina London Children’s Hospital. Clair trained to become a nurse, and since completed her MSc and worked as a critical care nurse for many years, caring for patients, until she moved into research nursing and now the role of head of research workforce.

We talked about the popular portrayal of the role of nurses in the NHS: tending to sick or injured patients, and working in the Accident and Emergency Department. However, I quickly realised that nurses are pivotal to the smooth running of hospitals, and that increasingly, more senior nurses are going into research. Clair also discussed her responsibility of listening to other nurses’ ideas of working conditions and work pressure, and stressed the importance nurses’ mental health.

I attended a meeting in which Clair discussed the importance of promoting nurses and midwives to lead research projects and clinical trials. She celebrated the variety of achievements of clinical research teams in South London, through a presentation containing patient recruitment statistics and comparisons.

I went on a fascinating tour of the Evelina: I was shown the Cardiology, Respiratory and Screening Departments, where I talked with the people in these departments, who gave me an insight into their roles.

Later on, I attended a meeting in which Clair had a discussion with senior nurses about priorities for developing the Trust capacity and capability to do more nurse and midwife-led research. It was centred on recognising the contribution of senior nurses to achieving the vision of the NIHR to improve the health of the nation. The team discussed the methods of promoting research roles and further education to nurses and midwives. Throughout the meeting, Clair explained to me the various acronyms used by the other speakers and the research priorities they had identified. I give my utmost gratitude to Clair for talking with me and increasing my awareness of the importance of nurses and midwives in research.

I also met with Shaun Cochrane, a deputy research manager. He introduced me to his critical role of overseeing clinical trials, and we had a conversation about the importance of biomarkers in biomedical research. He showed me a booklet filled with information about biomarkers and their different uses and applications to medical research. I was then asked to research them independently, and produce some facts about their uses.

I found out that in a joint partnership between the International Programme on Chemical Safety and the World Health Organisation to investigate patient safety after therapeutic intervention, the term ‘biomarker’ has been defined as: ‘any substance, structure, or process that can be measured in the body or its products and influence or influence or predict the incidence or outcome of a (named) disease’. A developed definition takes into account the effects of environmental factors such as exposure to chemicals or high-energy radiation (particles) and the effects of diet on cellular activity.

Biomarkers can be categorised into four types: genomic, transcriptome, proteomic and metabolic biomarkers. A prevalent example of the usage of biomarkers is the rapidly increasing number of people with type two diabetes mellitus. Genomic biomarkers are not the best indicators of the progression of this disease, as genetic mutations are not often expressed in the genome. Rather, metabolic biomarkers such as the analysis of fasting plasma glucose are better indicators of an individual’s likelihood of developing the disease.

Proteomic biomarkers can be used in diagnosing neuropsychiatric disorders, where alterations in protein synthesis, expression and activity can be indicators of onset disease, using mass spectrometry to analyse the presence of proteins in cerebral fluid or blood.

I give my utmost thanks to everyone who has talked to me about their role within this department, and for this amazing opportunity to learn about the importance of clinical trials in the development of medicine to better society.