Working as an ophthalmology registrar for the past five years, I have witnessed first-hand the devastating social impact that visual impairment and blindness can have on a patient and their family. This has driven my interest in understanding the genetics of eye disease and mechanisms through which they cause blindness. One day this type of work will hopefully pave the way towards developing new treatments for eye disease. I was very keen to get more involved in research, but as a full-time clinician, I found it difficult to dedicate time towards the basic science and laboratory aspects of genetics research. The Clinical Research Primer award gave me the perfect opportunity to further develop my research interests, by funding a six-month secondment from my clinical commitments, allowing me to gain first-hand experience of working in a research environment.
I was particularly keen to work with Professor Andrew Crosby and Dr Emma Baple’s research team at the University of Exeter to further develop my research interests in inherited eye diseases. Their research team have made enormous headway in unravelling the causes of inherited diseases in genetically isolated communities such as the North American Amish, and their findings have provided important insights into new disease mechanisms that have benefitted patients worldwide. Professor Crosby and Dr Baple were encouraging, supportive and generous with their time, and worked with me to develop a research project, investigating the causes of inherited eye diseases in Pakistani communities, with an aim of improving our understanding of how eye disease develops, whilst at the same time leading to improvements in clinical eye care for the community.
I already had some basic research experience after completing an intercalated BSc in medical genetics; however, the field of genetics and genomics has leapt forwards significantly since then! The Clinical Research Primer gave me the time and opportunity to refresh my rusty practical laboratory skills (which way do I hold a pipette again…?), learn about bioinformatic strategies used to analyse next generation sequencing results, and catch up on the latest technological advancements and research findings in the field of genomics. It was a bit of a shock initially stepping out of a structured clinical training environment into a self-directed, stimulating and sometimes challenging research environment, and the clinical primer gave me the chance to familiarise myself with the workings of a research lab and to learn how best to organise my research workload. It was also very inspiring being able to work with and develop my research ideas with leading academics in the field.
I especially appreciated the opportunity offered by the Clinical Research Primer to temporarily step out of clinical medicine and immerse myself in a dedicated period of research. This was instrumental in allowing me to gather enough preliminary data in a short space of time, which has contributed to two publications on inherited eye diseases in Pakistani communities, and formed the basis of my funding applications for PhD studies. I was successfully awarded the Vice Chancellor’s Scholarship for Postgraduate Research from the University of Exeter, allowing me to start my PhD studies in February 2018. The skills that I have gained and collaborations that I have built during the Clinical Research Primer have allowed me to hit the ground running as I started my PhD, and provided strong foundations that are invaluable in helping me progress with my PhD studies.
I am extremely grateful for the opportunity that the Clinical Research Primer provides in allowing full time clinicians gain an experience of research and academia, and which has motivated me to further pursue a clinical academic career. I can unreservedly recommend the Clinical Research Primer to any clinicians considering a career in academic medicine.