I was a clinical scientist in the NHS for 20 years and was lucky enough to complete a part-time PhD.
I studied at the University of Aberdeen, where I investigated if nuclear medicine techniques could monitor and predict the response of locally-advanced breast cancer to chemotherapy before surgery is considered. My research gave me chance to become Head of Radioisotopes for the Northern Ireland Regional Medical Physics Agency.
It was during my time in Belfast that I really developed my expertise in positron emission tomography (PET). I was responsible for delivering the Northern Ireland PET production facility, as well as establishing Departments of Nuclear Medicine at the Royal Victoria Hospital and the Northern Ireland Cancer Centre.
Delivering multi-million pound projects gave me the opportunity to come to Cardiff, where I was appointed Director of the new Wales Research and Diagnostic Positron Emission Tomography Imaging Centre (PETIC). This £18.5m facility was set up to deliver a national PET imaging service and support the nation’s burgeoning life science sector.
We were one of the first centres worldwide to produce nucleophilic fluorodopa, a radiopharmaceutical with applications in schizophrenia, addiction and glioma. It is also the agent used in a major research trial investigating a possible therapy for Parkinson’s disease.
We have also developed the ability to scan and measure levels of beta amyloid plaques and tau deposition in the brain. These are the two biomarkers associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other degenerative conditions. The ability to identify them will prove invaluable in monitoring whether potential therapies for Alzheimer’s disease are effective.
Additionally, we have developed the ability to produce the radioactive metal zirconium 89. Doing so has allowed us to develop two platforms, one for tracking monoclonal antibodies and a second to track cells in vivo. Both of these platforms are proving useful in precision medicine applications.
Delivering routine clinical services did, however, create unexpected constraints. I wanted more opportunities to innovate, undertake research and develop novel processes utilising PET. The move into academia has allowed me to overcome these barriers.