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Research – Greer Deal's firsthand experience as a ‘patient’


One day, I received a letter from my doctor inviting me to take part in some research.  I thought “why not?  I’m always dealing with the regulatory compliance side of research so let’s see what it’s like to be on the receiving end as an active participant.”


I’m sure you’re aware that, at Global Regulatory Services (GRS) our focus is on regulatory compliance.  We ensure that our clients are compliant with the regulations, directives and standards which are (or could be) applicable to their product.  In terms of research activities, we deal with all the paperwork for: study design, investigator brochures, Good Clinical Practice (GCP) etc.  Until now, I’ve not had the opportunity to be actively involved in research as the ‘patient’.  So now that I’ve taken part I thought I’d share the experience with you.


The study I’ve contributed to is The Fenland Study.  This looks at the influence of diet, lifestyle and genetic factors on the development of diabetes, obesity and other metabolic disorders.  The study is looking at 10,000 people born between 1950 and 1975 from three regions in Cambridgeshire: Ely, Wisbech and Cambridge.  

On Friday 29 November 2013, I arrived at the MRC unit at Addenbrooke’s Hospital at 7.45am.  I was half an hour early so was surprised that the study team was already there!  They checked that I really was who I was supposed to be and I signed a form to officially consent to taking part.  Several times during the morning I was told that I could leave the study at any time and that it was my choice to be there so not to worry if I wanted to walk away.  Walk away, why would I?  This was far too interesting and dare I say it, I was having fun.  It also meant I was out of the office for three and a half hours!


  • During my assessment, I had a number of body measurements taken:
  • Height and weight
  • An ECG – to check I was fit enough to go on the treadmill!  (I was relieved to see a nice steady rhythm on the print out.)
  • Ultrasound of the abdominal area and a DEXA scan to measure fat levels (adiposity) in the body.  To the right is a ‘picture’ of my skeleton!


I also had my physical activity levels and diet measured via a series of questionnaires and a treadmill test to assess the amount of energy I use when walking in a controlled environment.  Then I was sent home with a movement sensor on my left wrist (similar to a watch) and a heart rate monitor attached to my chest with sticky pads so that the research team can measure my everyday physical activity for six days.  And, yes, this equipment is waterproof!


The study places great emphasis on sensitivity to insulin (important in diabetes) so a blood sample was taken on arrival to measure glucose and blood fats (e.g. cholesterol).  Then I had to drink a “harmless sugary drink” and 2 hours afterwards another blood sample was taken to measure my response.


So what were the highs and lows of my morning?


The lows were:


  • Not being able to eat or drink anything (except water) from 10pm the previous night i.e. no breakfast!
  • The “harmless sugary drink” was absolutely disgusting.  It took me about 20 minutes to drink the small cupful with about a litre of water!  I asked if anyone had ‘downed it in one’.  The research nurse explained that men are particularly bravo about the drink and she did have one gentlemen who drank it in one go.  “What happened?” I asked.  “He slid off his chair and ended up on the floor” was the response – basically the extreme ‘sugar rush’ was too much for his body to cope with!
  • Wearing what felt like a diving mask when walking briskly uphill on the treadmill.  At this point it was at the end of the morning and you need to bear in mind, I’d had nothing to eat or drink (except for water and that horrible sugary drink) since 10pm the night before.  After 20 minutes I felt somewhat lightheaded and had a very sweaty face under the mask.
  • I keep looking at my movement sensor to see what time it is!
  • Wearing the heart rate monitor – the sticky pads did cause some skin irritation so it’ll be a relief when I can take them off.


The highs were:


  • I was extremely well looked after by the study team.  So much so that I felt pampered, almost like going to a health spa.  I did say “almost”!  Seriously, the team were very welcoming and friendly and gave me their undivided attention.
  • It was interesting to see the process of running such a study: what they said, how they said it and when it was said.  At every point, it was made clear that I was in control of the situation.  If I wasn’t happy or comfortable about something, I only had to say.  I was also intrigued that my research nurse was QC checked during my time with her.  Everything was very precise and controlled.
  • The sandwich and long overdue cup of tea at the end of the morning.
  • The chats and camaraderie with other volunteers.


So what next?


Well I need to return the movement sensor and heart rate monitor and then, in a couple of weeks, I will receive a report which will also be shared with my doctor.  The question is dare I share my results with you?  Watch this space!


And would I encourage others to get involved in research?  Most definitely “yes”.  I found it to be an interesting and rewarding experience with the added bonus that my contribution could well make a difference to all our futures.


“big things can come from small beginnings”