Meet the Researcher

Mary O’Brien

Brief description of yourself and career journey to date?

I’m Mary O’Brien, Professor of Palliative and Supportive care at Edge Hill University in the lovely market town of Ormskirk in Lancashire, about 14 miles from the centre of Liverpool. I trained as a nurse and worked in different specialties. After a while working in neurosciences I became a nurse specialist for MND and continued in the role for nearly 10 years before moving into academia. This has given me the opportunity to develop my own research and to collaborate with other researchers. I also hope to inspire new generations of researchers as I teach health professionals about research methods and supervise Masters level and PhD students.

 

How and why did you get into MND research?

I first got into MND research when I was working as a nurse specialist for MND. The consultant I worked with was very research active and involved in a number of different studies so I started working on some too, the first one was the original Riluzole study. I suppose having such close involvement with people affected by MND and witnessing their struggles made me realise how important research was in our efforts to try and make their lives better.

 

Can you briefly describe the research you are currently involved in?

I am interested in the needs of people with MND and their family carers particularly towards the end of life and into bereavement. Recently I’ve been working with the MND Association to pilot the Carers’ Alert Thermometer (CAT), a triage tool developed with colleagues at Edge Hill University. The CAT helps to identify those carers who may be struggling and in need of additional support and its use is being rolled out across the MND Association.

 

What do you enjoy most about your job as a researcher?

Giving people the opportunity to have their voices heard. Being a qualitative researcher is all about listening to people’s stories, taking account of their opinions, trying to understand their experiences and helping to make sense of what is happening to them.

 

What’s been the highlight of your career so far?

Being awarded a personal chair in August 2015 is certainly a highlight for me. I never imagined when I started my nurse training that I would eventually end up as a Professor.

 

Who do you admire the most?

There are so many people, it would be hard to pick just one. I do really admire those people who take part in research studies. They give up their time and put themselves out when they may not actually benefit themselves from taking part, but other people may in the future. It is such an altruistic act.

 

What do you like doing in your spare time?

There never really seems to be enough spare time but I do enjoy a few activities. I try to keep fit and began running marathons about ten years ago. I’m a keen gardener and like growing fruit and veg as well as flowers. I really enjoy baking, and in particular I like making celebration cakes, so it’s just as well I have some chickens to supply me with eggs! Perhaps my most enjoyable activity recently has been spending time with my first grandchild Amelie.

Dr. Muhammad Rafiq

Brief description of yourself and career journey to date?

I am a consultant neurologist with special interest in MND.  I was trained in neurology and did my research in MND at the Sheffield Teaching Hospitals and University of Sheffield under the auspices of Prof. Dame Pamela Shaw.

How and why did you get into MND research?

I got into MND research purely by chance but I soon realized the potential of making a difference in the lives of people with MND.  I continued in this field as I felt that I was able to look after the needs of people with MND and over the years I became very good at diagnosing and managing this condition.

Can you briefly describe the research you are currently involved in?

I am focusing on the symptomatic management of MND in particular the respiratory issues.  I am also working on a project to reduce immobility related issues such as ankle swelling.

What do you enjoy most about your job as a researcher?

I am always energized by the courage with which people with MND face their condition and most of them think positively and take part in research with enthusiasm.  Meeting such patients and helping them is really satisfying.

What’s been the highlight of your career so far?

I have been successful in securing a consultant post where I have the opportunity to lead on the MND services for a very large geographical area and do research on MND.  I have started to personally make a difference in people’s journey.

Who do you admire the most?

As mentioned above I admire the courage and humor of people with MND.

What do you like doing in your spare time?

I think that the art of medicine is too vast and life is short. Although I do spend time with my family, I try to read and write in my spare time and that’s when I feel my time is best spent.

Dr John Ealing

Brief description of yourself and career journey to date?

I grew up in a former mining town in the midlands. Although not from a medical family, I knew from my early teens that I wanted to be a medic. After training in London, Oxford and Preston, I settled in Manchester with my wife and two children. I’ve been a Consultant Neurologist and Director of the MND Care Center in Manchester since 2005.

How and why did you get into MND research?

Anyone working with people living with MND understands the desire to strive toward more effective treatments and perhaps equally important, better symptom control. Although as a full time NHS Consultant, my research is now more patient-based for much of my training I “moonlighted” in laboratories in London and Oxford. As one of the researchers in white coats and goggles staring at test tubes that you see on the TV and I can assure you that the reality is far from the miraculous labs of “House” and “Silent Witness” as advances in diseases such as MND takes years of often laborious work by scientists. Only a small proportion of the work hits the headlines but the incremental gain of knowledge has been hugely helpful.

Can you briefly describe the research you are currently involved in?

Gone are my days of laboratory research; the demands of the NHS don’t sit well with the complexity of lab work. However, I maintain a keen interest in the developments and especially when they have an effect on people living with MND.

The team in Manchester recruited to the LiCALs, DiPALs, SCALES, Heads Up and the MNDA DNA bank as well as identifying patients that led to the discovery of the C9orf72 gene. We’re currently recruiting for TONIC and 100,000 Genomes study, will be recruiting to a study looking to support those caring for people living with MND and remain primed for the next treatment trial.

What do you enjoy most about your job as a researcher?

There are so many things in life we don’t understand as yet. Any progress toward a greater understanding as to what makes us tick is hugely important.

What’s been the highlight of your career so far?

I once managed to sub-clone a gene from the human pubic louse; I wasn’t planning to do so and to this day I have no idea how it happened. I guess any hope for a Nobel Prize for that is out of the question?

Designing and making a muscle protein that fluoresced and allowed researchers to watch it in real time as this protein was made and transported to the surface of muscle cells was pretty good although less colleagues laughed than with the pubic louse result.

Who do you admire the most?

People like Nelson Mandela and Ghandi get all the well-deserved kudos, but anyone who shows tenacity and perseverance against the odds gets my vote. That pretty much sums up people living with MND.

What do you like doing in your spare time?

I run up mountains, take photos and then run back down again. During that process I take care not to fall or get lost as doing either would require me to call out the local mountain rescue team; imagine the embarrassment of having to be rescued by your own team!

There are also some people in my house that identify themselves as my wife and two children. I suppose I chat to them occasionally.

Professor Chris McDermot

Chris McDermott is Professor of Translational Neurology at the University of Sheffield, UK, where he is co-director of the Motor Neuron Disease Care and Research Centre. He leads a research group whose goal is to develop the evidence base for symptom management in patients motor neuron disease.

What has been the greatest achievement of your career?

The opportunity to work in partnership with people living with motor neuron disease, so as to develop solutions to the problems they face on a daily basis.

What do you think is the most neglected field of science or medicine at the moment?

Palliative care, particularly in the last few months of life.

What inspires you?

The refusal to accept that just because something cannot be cured, there is nothing to be done.

If you had not entered your current profession, what would you have liked to do?

Be a pop star, starship captain, or historian.

How do you relax?

By laughing, eating, and travelling with friends and family.

What is your greatest regret?

Neither learning to play the piano nor learning to speak a foreign language when I was younger.

What is your favorite film and why?

Pride is my current favorite. It made me laugh, cry, and indulge in childhood nostalgia.

How would you improve the public’s understanding of research?

With a scripted reality show.

What was your first experiment as a child?

Does sandwich spread taste the same as mayonnaise?
Conclusion: no.

If you were Bill Gates, how would you spend your fortune?

I would set up a foundation to fund the world’s best researchers and incentivise industry to facilitate advances in treating people with motor neuron disease.

Dr Esther Hobson

My name is Esther Hobson.  I studied medicine at Cambridge University and qualified as a doctor at Oxford University in 2006.  I am currently a National Institute for Health Research Academic Clinical Fellow.  This has allowed me some time to concentrate on research during my training in neurology and I have been lucky enough to work at SITraN.

How and why did you get into MND research?
I was always been fascinated by how the brain works, how it makes us who we are and how much we still have to learn about it.  Caring for people with neurological conditions means being able to combine basic science knowledge and modern technologies whilst all the time thinking about the person and their family as a whole.  Looking after patients and their families whose lives have been devastated by MND made me want to try to help make their lives better.

What is it like working in SITraN?
Some days when I walk into SITraN it feels like all the greatest brains in the world are busy working together under one roof.  It is exciting to sit beside so many different types of people, from the doctors and nurses with years of experience at the bedside, to the laboratory and IT specialists who understand the intricate details of cells.

Can you briefly describe the research project you are currently working on?
I’m developing a telehealth system, using a handheld computer that patients and their families can use at home to communicate with their MND care team.  We are working with Cogent Healthcare Systems and other telehealth specialists within Sheffield University to create a finished product.  This has involved working with patients and families to understand what they need and how we can improve their care.

What do you enjoy most about your job as a researcher?
I like being able to think about things in detail and listen to the ideas and thoughts of others who are doing the same.

What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
Having the time I have now to dedicate my work to this project has certainly been fantastic.  I’m looking forward to seeing our finished telehealth product and seeing it in action in peoples’ homes.

Who do you admire the most?
Too many people to chose from!  All the brilliant researchers here know so much about things that I can’t even comprehend.  I also admired my grandmother who managed to qualify as a pharmacist in the 1940s despite being deaf.  She was really excited to hear about the work SITraN does.

What do you like doing in your spare time?
I seem to mostly spend my time looking for things that I have lost (keys, socks, gloves etc.) and when I’m not doing that I like mountain biking and running and dreaming about sunny, dusty trails and beautiful views!

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