The Things We Do for Science – Part 1 – by Morag
Some day my enthusiasm for science will be the end of me; whenever an opportunity to take part in research comes up I’m the one hopping up and down:
“Yaay science! Me, me, do me!”
“…so what is it you want to do?”
“…a whole arm?”
I’m pleased to report that I still have both arms.
It started with a tweet; chatting to Diabetes UK on twitter, I mentioned that I’d love to take part in research. Within hours, I had a message from Katharine Owen, a researcher in Oxford, asking if I’d be interested in a trip down there.
A few weeks and many emails later, I arrived at the hospital in Oxford. I’ve taken part in research before, but nothing quite like this, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The clinic is in a lovely bright, modern wing of the hospital, and everybody was very friendly and welcoming – even piling in for a selfie – so any nerves I had quickly evaporated.
Before we got started, Rachel, the nurse, made sure I understood all about the project and what would be happening, and I had plenty of opportunities to ask questions. Then it was on with the usual tests; height, weight, BMI, blood pressure, that bit where they tickle your feet and you try not to kick them in the nose (is that just me?), urine and blood samples. Getting 16 (sixteen!!) tubes of blood from me before breakfast is quite a feat in itself.
All that blood earned me cereal, toast and jam; these people know what they’re doing, none of this “you can’t have jam, you’re diabetic” nonsense! While I was eating, Katharine came for a chat, and I had the chance to fire questions at her. This was a highlight of the day – my type of diabetes (MODY) is rare enough that there aren’t many experts around, and I came away with a far better understanding of how it works.
After lots of questionnaires, Rachel moved on to less familiar stuff, starting with an ECG, which involved lots of fiddling with wires and electrodes but was completely painless and surprisingly quick:
Next, the scary bit – a skin biopsy. Again, Rachel was very patient, and managed to take a tiny piece of skin from my thigh painlessly and with very little squeamishness. Don’t ask me how; there’s no way I was looking!
Finally, a DEXA scan to look at body composition and fat distribution, which is remarkably like being photocopied. Once you realise this, it’s quite a challenge to lie perfectly still and not giggle…I managed though, and was rewarded with a picture of my skeleton:
All done, and Rachel rushed my skin biopsy off to a lab to be turned into stem cells while I had another chat with Katharine over more tea and toast, before heading back to my accommodation for a well-earned rest.
It’s easy to imagine medical research as a mysterious, vaguely sinister process, but in reality it’s not a whole lot different to any other hospital appointment. Remember that episode of Friends where Phoebe and Rachel get tattoos? Phoebe confesses she wimped out when she realised they use needles and Rachel says “Really?…mine was LICKED ON BY KITTENS!” Well, I’m not going to kid on that it’s all cuddles and kittens – there really were needles – but I was very well looked after, with Rachel providing friendly chatter, blankets, water, tea, or just a moment to lie down and rest whenever I needed. Everybody went out of their way to make sure my needs were taken care of and the trip was organised in a way that worked for me.
I’d certainly encourage anybody to take part in research; it was a surreal but very positive experience, and it was great to get an opportunity to meet and chat to real experts in my condition. Most of all, it was privilege to be able to take part in such an exciting project and make a real contribution.
Meanwhile…somewhere in a lab in Oxford…my identical goop twin is being created…
If you want to know more about the project and hear the researcher’s side of the story, read Katharine’s post here