Paediatric Oncology Consultant
Dr Jessica Bate is a Paediatric Oncology Consultant at University Hospital Southampton and holder of a Research Leaders Programme (RLP) fellowship.
She has a particular interest in improving supportive care for children with cancer, primarily around finding ways to reduce and manage the side effects of their treatment.
Helping children with cancer fight infections
Cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, can weaken the immune system. This means children with cancer are often more susceptible to infections and, if they catch them, these infections can make them more ill.
Much of Jessica’s research has therefore been focussed on how to prevent children with cancer from getting infections. Her interest in this area began a number of years ago, when she looked at how best to prevent these children falling ill with viral infections such as chickenpox.
“Traditionally children would receive an intramuscular injection of immunoglobulin whenever they’d been exposed to chickenpox, which is a blood product, quite painful and wasn’t always effective,” she explains.
“So we looked at a trial giving oral acyclovir, which is an antiviral, instead of an injection. We found that it was just as good, was much preferred by children and families overall, and was a fraction of the cost. So that’s now become standard of care for children with cancer.”
Jessica intends to use her RLP fellowship to continue to find ways to prevent and improve treatment of infections in children with cancer. Her most recent research has been the OCTAVE trial, which is investigating how well the COVID-19 vaccine protects people with weakened immune systems. Initially only open to adults, it has now been expanded to include children with cancer. She also plans to apply for funding for other research, including how to improve the diagnosis of fungal infections.
She hopes that, due to the broad scope of her research, it will have a large impact on improving the experience and outcomes of children receiving treatment for cancer.
“The type of research I do affects every child undergoing treatment for cancer, regardless of what their underlying diagnosis is. Supportive care remains an area where there is still considerable variation in practice, and research aims to improve the evidence available to improve outcomes and quality of life for these children,” she says.
Making time for mentoring
She hopes the RLP fellowship, which funds one day a week, will not only give her time to concentrate more on her research, but also to focus more on being a mentor. Mentoring is something she already does, enjoys and sees real value in, and she wants to do more.
“So a lot of my time has been mentoring less experienced members of the team, helping them to get started in research, supporting them to write papers and nurture them, and that’s another reason I applied for the RLP – to get that dedicated time to help others.”
Jessica says it’s really important that UHS have decided to fund the RLP, as it shows the Trust recognises the importance of research.
By funding these fellowships, the Trust not only values the research that consultants such as herself are doing, but is willing to invest in their career development as a clinical academic so they can take a leading role in it.
It means they have dedicated time set aside for research, meaning they don’t have sacrifice their own free time to do it. This is important, Jessica says, as that’s just not sustainable. The RLP also provides training and personal development to help individuals progress.
“I think it’s really valuable that UHS has appreciated the impact we clinical academics have on patients,” says Jessica.
“I’ve got lots of ideas and there’s lots of research that I want to develop. Unfortunately, in a busy full-time clinical job, there’s just very little time to devote to research.”
She says the RLP encourages excellence, as it encourages people to work harder and deliver, and to improve their research credentials. This has an important impact on improving the quality of care for patients.
She describes her RLP fellowship as ‘a real privilege’, giving her funded time to develop her research interests. She says she’s been looking for a job like this since ever she first started doing research, and she intends to make the most of it.
“It’s good to receive recognition for research, and to have the thinking space and more time. This creates a research positive culture across the Trust. It also sends a very powerful message to say that UHS takes research really seriously, and wants to develop people who have the ideas, capabilities, and the qualities to be research leaders.”