My life in Science whilst raising a child with type 1 diabetes

Biomedical Science, Type 1 Diabetes, Coeliac Disease and other findings


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IBMS Congress from a student perspective

2015-09-28 13.30.33Yesterday, I traveled down south from Glasgow to Birmingham, for the IBMS congress at the ICC.  On my part, this was a mixture of career planning, travel enthusiasm and escapism if I’m honest (who let mum loose?).  Who doesn’t like day trips? (insert Beatles song here).

Also, I want to be proactive about my career. It’s a great combo!  Since the flight was cheaper than travelling to Edinburgh for the day, I thought why not? I was eager to meet people who are passionate about biomedical science from other walks of life.

Expectations

On arrival, I found Birmingham looked like an up and coming city. I felt full of  “spring” in my step! The newly opened New street station was certainly worth my visit, if all else failed.  However, I was full of purpose, so didn’t hang around much to be honest – heading straight for the ICC on a mission.   2015-09-28 13.22.55I had expectations of chatting with scientists, and professionals on current treatment options/diagnostics and you guessed it… all with a bias towards autoimmune conditions. So where was Medtronic?

Students of Biomedical Science unite!

The student expo, as aimed at undergraduates wondering where this ‘broad-ranged‘ degree will take them.  Sarah May, Deputy Chief Executive of the institute highlighted the routes into working for the NHS and options which may be available to a new graduate – more often than not – a laboratory support role.  These jobs are marketed at pay band Grade 3 (NHS grading)  for those without any qualifications, which may seem like you’ve hit disaster after 4 years of hard slog, and brain-bashing theory to gain a piece of paper, which you didn’t need to begin with! Don’t be disheartened was the message, students with the BSc(hons) degree can progress from these roles within the NHS, and aim to specialise in a chosen niche – look at it, as a step in the door.  For those who wish to be at the forefront of diagnostics, and feel the support of the largest employer of BMS behind you, then I feel this could be a great career.  Also, a wonderfully, inspiring talk presented by Sgt Colin Hudson of the Royal Air Force left me feeling amazed at the capabilities of scientists in the most difficult of places and circumstances a person could ever be asked to face.  This also made me feel a little sad, because my son can never apply to the forces due to his medical condition, but it is good to know there are strong minded, focused and extremely capable scientists meeting the needs of those at the face of human crisis on our planet.

I personally was very interested in the talk by Dr Sue Jones, from York St John’s university.  I am not a young undergraduate, and have come to biomedical science as a second career. Therefore, I have strong determination and deep personal reasons for being interested in completing this degree. I carry with me experience of treating a child with a severe life threatening medical condition, and this gives me a double-sided view of why research is vital, why it is important to network and sell products that vastly improve patient’s lives.  I am that customer.  Which leads me onto the exhibition.

Exhibition hall and the big names in industry including Leica, Abbott, Siemens and the list goes on…

At break, we ventured into the massive exhibition hall to wonder at the latest and greatest of diagnostic equipment, laboratory aides and tools.  I chatted with a few exhibitors about my student experience so far and well wishes all round were exchanged.  I personally felt like a child in a sweetie shop – literally, due to the fact every stand was happy to supply everyone with a quick sugar rush. Ironic? … discuss.

From a student perspective, I felt the career aspect of the expo was vital to anyone who has not thought about the different routes to follow after the undergraduate degree.  I got chatting to a few students from universities in England, about the differences in their degree programme and mine, but one thing remained the same, these degrees are very popular in the UK. There is widespread competition and we all need to aim for more experience in the lab if we want to stand out from the crowd.  If it is financially viable, to gain lab experience at your university or research institute, then keep trying – I know I found my summer work experience invaluable.

Finally … let’s not avoid the elephant in the room any longer – Earning potentional!

There is an element of “but when will I get paid?”,” When will I earn from this degree?” and I admit, I have thought that quite often. I do have two children and a mortgage and without my husband’s career things would be very different for our family. Nonetheless,  I try to hold onto the dream and hope I had at the start of this route for a specific reason, and that was to help make my son’s life easier, to understand the mechanisms behind his wonky immune system, and to try and work alongside researchers who also feel as passionate about that as me.  Currently, I have no delusions about earning the best wage.  I know that applying for funding for a PhD is highly competitive.  As is, finding that job that makes all this seem worthwhile. Basically, I have admired a certain researcher for the past few years who works at Massachusetts general hospital in Boston, USA – so quite a far travel for someone from Ayrshire, Scotland. It does all seem like a pipe dream to me, but not one I am willing to give up on just yet.  For those who wish to enter the NHS, there is also the delayed potential to earn a band 6 wage – which could take quite a few years post-graduation.  In summary, why should we not go for sales jobs? I’ll leave that to you to answer, It is a very personal answer – but please feel free to share your own experiences.

When you walk around the exhibitors hall, it can be quite an eye opener to see the ones who make money from biomedical science. But if you are passionate about the subject, it could be you who helps to write the rule book, who aids the invention of the next immunoassay or who writes a paper leading to the improvement of millions of lives.  We certainly wouldn’t be living with some of the best technology for managing type 1 diabetes without some of the best research and pharmaceutical involvement in the world. medtronic-cgm

So without coming across as a cheesy motivational speaker, I would like to finish up by saying, it would have been wonderful to be able to sign up to attend a talk listed on the plenary. If this was an option (I’m not sure if it was), I would have loved to hear the talk by Dr Claire Guest – CEO of Medical Detection Dogs (I know of a family who have a dog that responds to a child with hypo-unawareness – a life saving dog!).

My aim was to explore where my career would go, but I still leave that open. Open to chance meetings.  Open to networking. Open to fate perhaps, and certainly open to more day trips and conferences.

Please feel free to comment, and share!  I hope my post inspires others to attend conferences, and get meeting others in the field.


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SansGluten? Mais oui!

2015-06-21 13.01.14-1Sorry for the lack of updates folks, we’ve been in the Cote! This is what locals call it, and since we were there for two weeks, I’m now considering myself as one.

Coeliac disease and trips to France bring about a whole new level of event management.  If you have travelled there, you will now where I’m coming from.  I thought I had the pronunciation of “Mon Fils avais un maladie de coeliaque”  – until I realised I’ve probably just said he had a disease, rather than he has!  And this sums up my failings in French. I can pick out verbs and nouns from my previous school years (ahem, a few years ago now), but stringing it all together into perfect tenses, and participles is another matter.  So I’ll stick to biomedical science now.

Without making too much light of this, it was extremely difficult to eat there, unaware if we were being paid “lip-service” by chef’s and waiters, and waiting to see if our son reacted in anyway to possible hidden traces of gluten.

I had browsed many blogs and websites before travelling to Nice and Cannes, and many results failed at the first hurdle.  Still, I wanted to try and take on a challenge with my son, to help him see there are ways and means.

These include, researching where the nearest supermarkets were – and if they stocked gluten free (sans gluten), booking self catering accommodation in order to make as many of our own meals as we could. Packing as much gluten free food as we could, and learning basics french.  But to give you an idea of the impact of Coeliac disease, here’s a little story that you might find interesting.  When first diagnosed, and for quite a while afterwards, my son was literally frightened to touch any surface that may have come into contact with gluten.  At age 8, and having had severe pain and weight loss, nevermind the experience of having a biopsy, he tried to cope with his fears by avoiding lots of places. Including opening car doors, which others had touched – because they had just ate a sandwich!  There are other occasions that I won’t mention, but it took us a lot of hard work to encourage him that he would not experience pain unless he ate gluten.  Fast forward a few years, a school trip on a residential break (I went with as a volunteer), he panicked when his class mates started throwing toast around at breakfast time, resulting in crumbs all over his food and his freshly squeezed orange juice! Staff, and teachers showed nothing but disdain for my son’s panic, and exclaimed that he was making a fuss about nothing! (super-hero mummy to rescue with that one – and I got no medal for being the most diplomatic person in the room). Being that he also has type 1 diabetes, it is quite important for him to gain substantial long lasting carbs at times where we are planning long hours of exercise, so we like to ensure he has adequate nutrition. Wait!  But doesn’t every child? My point exactly.  The amount of times he has felt excluded from society because of Coeliac disease is countless, so we try to make the good times happen as frequently as possible (note to self, next blog to discuss failing to maintain a healthy bank balance every month).  He is maturing, at quite a fast pace it has to be said, but with a sad understanding that there may be many occasions where he just can’t eat.  Friends tottering off to Subway for example, friends birthday parties (will he take a packed lunch now that’s he nearly 13?) and holidays to France?  But here’s the secret gem I was hiding, deep within my blog (mysterieux, non?).  Choopy’s.  Yes.  Choopy’s is in Antibes. It is cupcake heaven for us avec coeliaques. 

gluten free cupcakes, in Antibes

gluten free cupcakes, in Antibes

It’s a local cafe, ran and managed by a french lady who has coeliac.  The kitchen is 100% sans gluten, the cupcakes, cakes, sandwiches, bagels, baguettes, wraps, smoothies are all healthy gluten free alternatives.  I don’t care if this is blatant marketing, I get no fee for this.  The place is wonderful.  C’est delicieux! When we arrived there were lots of tourists there, and with a huge map on the wall with pins  – we got to see where people have travelled from to visit.  My son felt a range of emotions, all of which I see in his eyes without him speaking a word. Relief, joy, happiness, relaxation and delight.  2015-06-27 14.52.092015-06-21 20.45.01

Secondly, there was a creperie in Nice (Debin Ur Begad), in the old town which offered gluten free crepes.  Thankfully! You have no idea, just how many restaurants we had to avoid, so to find two which we could visit, and feel safe seemed like heaven to be honest!

Just take a moment to think of all the places you can eat, in your local town, if you are out and about and feel hungry – where do you go? Do you buy a quick sandwich (is there a gluten free option there?)  Do you head for Greggs the bakers (Do they offer anything for people living with Coeliac? – apart from a piece of fruit?)  What about Marks & Spencers?  Do you see how many sandwiches they offer – oops, wait, you’re right there is that one option which is gluten free isn’t there.  That’ll be the egg option! You guessed it, my son doesn’t like egg sandwiches. Actually, I don’t know who does?  (that one is open for discussion if you are really bored today).

You’ll quickly realise, just how much food matters to your life when it suddenly becomes restrictive – and more so for a child.  The social impact is huge and one which society doesn’t need to think about, until it comes across it.  However, things are improving, all the time – just yesterday I read of research at the University of Alberta, where a study is underway to prevent gliadin from causing gut damage. Not sure what the coeliac community feel about this option, if they feel delayed gut damage would still occur, however at least research is trying to help us all! Discuss??  Coeliac Uk have an annual research conference, which you can read about here also, if you feel you would like more details on current research topics. 

We do feel perturbed when we read how amazing Italy is for gluten free food, and the search will continue for the next holiday. However, since it was so expensive in La Sud de France, that won’t be happening this millennium.


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Diabetes Blog week – and Biomedical science exams!!

2015-01-12 09.04.02 2015-04-16 10.26.19 2015-04-25 10.54.23

Hi folks, it’s a busy time for me at the moment, I have completed my honours year research project aimed at investigating the inflammatory cellular infiltrates in osteoarthritis – using immunohistochemistry techniques.  This process developed my enthusiasm for research, and I learned lots of new lab skills – which will no doubt help me on my way to being a wonderful Diabetes researcher (one can dream).

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I have exams next week (insert image of a tiny violin here) –  Biomedical genetics and public health microbiology.  Therefore, I’ve not written a blog for a bit.  However, there has been lots of other interesting events happening.  First off, I wrote to my local MSP asking why the Medtronic 640g with smartlink technology doesn’t seem to be filtering it’s way to Scotland yet, and to discuss with him the benefits of continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) in managing type 1 diabetes.

The reply from him stated that according to SIGN guidelines, it is not recommended that a person with type 1 diabetes should use a CGM for routine management.  So, for now until there is further research on the benefits of using a CGM,  with insulin pump therapy, we must continue to prick my son’s finger >7 times a day. Here’s the thing I feel as his parent, – his fingers are ruined.  I say that with conviction! A better future for the testing of blood glucose must surely be on the horizon? This is an open call – from me! … However, as a Biomedical Science student, I have no money. Just to be clear on that!

Recently, we were lucky to have a mini trial of a CGM (6 days), on loan from our fantastic paediatric team at Crosshouse Hospital, in Ayrshire.  This allowed us to see what is happening with John’s glycaemic control, outwith the times that medtronic-cgmwe prick his fingers.  Shockingly, he suffered a serious hypo one morning which lasted over an hour – whilst he lay asleep in bed.  Importantly, whilst we all lay asleep in bed. He never woke to any alarms, or sensations that he was having a hypoglycaemic attack/episode.

This sets of major anxiety for parents of children with type 1 diabetes.  The “what if” scenario is one which my brain does not want to answer.   I understand there are major cost implications in offering a patient CGM.  The NICE guidelines on integrated pump and sensor technology (pump + CGM) discusses the benefits of using this technology – particularly if a patient is experiencing nocturnal hypoglycaemia! I could take a stab in the dark guess that this was a post-exercise hypo, as he has been snowboarding a lot lately, and playing football, and skateboarding, and ice skating, and… ok! you get the picture, he is a sporty young lad. Functioning pancreas or not – we live life with joy – and lot’s of bags full of equipment and sugar needless to say.

Type 1 gardenjohnjumpball-1Diabetes aside, it is also coeliac awareness week and we have been sharing a few stories on Facebook to raise awareness of this too! Apparently, there are over half a million people in the UK whom are living with coeliac disease, undiagnosed.  This raises concern with me, as I know all about the tissue damage and the effects of this if the disease goes untreated – so please click on the link above, and read their campaign! Our son’s diagnosis was pivotal in helping him feel good again, after months of painful cramps, diarrhoea, bloody bowel movements and weight loss – so don’t hang about folks.  Have a watch at Caroline Quentin’s recent piece shown on ITV’s This Morning to see how easy to procedure can be.

As far as study leave is going, that I will leave to the imagination.. I am typing a blog at the moment, which begs the question, how much revision have I achieved today?  #timemanagement.  The only other thing left to say is, I think I might go for a PhD or post-graduate study. Should I? Answers on a postcard.


Studying Biomedical Science: Relate, Relativity and Relationships!

me ace

This is a “broad spectrum” post today. It so happens that being a science student, we often ask the questions “why?” quite often.  As you may know from previous posts, my intense curiosity is driven by our patient experiences as a family of a child with Type 1 Diabetes.  However, recently I tried to imagine if my life would have been slightly simpler and less stressful had I not embarked on this career change.  What would I have done instead though?

I was travelling to and from my son’s school 3 times daily to administer insulin injections, I was learning about recombinant DNA techniques, I was calculating doses and trying to get blood glucose readings (of a growing child) to come between two very small goal posts – (4-7mmols to be precise). I started my blog to show people the reality of living with Type 1 Diabetes (and Coeliac disease) from my perspective, a mother’s perspective. Also to develop the relativity of Biomedical Science and the research with these conditions; to explain how my life changed by forming an understanding relationship between the two.

At times, embarking on this career has left me feeling absolutely exhausted – mentally and physically.  Learning complex, scientific material whilst holding onto enough perspective to remain a wonderfully, energetic and resourceful mother, wife and carer into the bargain, although my family would disagree on some of those issues.  However, along the way I’ve had serene light bulb moments. I realise this does sound a tad prosaic. But these moments have been pivotal to my continuation as a science student.  I’ve listed them below to break up the format more than anything:

In the style of John Cusack and Jack Black in the film High Fidelity – here are my Top 5 best ‘science’ moments (feel free to add your own playlist):

1 Visiting the Centre for Life / Science museum in Newcastle when the kids were little with them pointing to the University of Newcastle building and asking me ” mum, will they find a cure for Type 1 Diabetes?” I Remember feeling incredibly small that day – faced with nothing but huge mountains to climb in terms of learning.newcastle life

2 Reading the story of Dorothy Hodgkin and feeling positive that great women have been involved in Biomedical research for decades.  Her involvement in discovering the structure of insulin brings me nothing but awe inspired admiration.

3 Reading about Dr Melton and his team discovering an amazing medical breakthrough in terms of diabetes research – producing human insulin beta cells from stem cells at Harvard.

4 My family, their continued belief in me that I can pass my honours year (no weeping allowed here folks) although I don’t necessarily believe in myself until I see the grades along the way – so far it’s been averaging B1.  Although, I have suddenly started to feel a drive to raise that to an A!

5 I honestly feel that I can relate to others who have faced adversity, mortality issues and continue with courage, and at times, research can build this quality (said with a tinge of facetiousness). Understanding, on the whole, that you cannot control the results, you just have to roll with what you get! It mirrors the stage of acceptance I have with my son’s diagnosis.

My thoughts for the day – For anyone struggling through a tough year at uni, studying Biomedical Science my message is yes, I have had huge doubts of my ability along the way, and relations have been strained, but the good news is folks, I’m still here.  I have persevered in times of strain and despondency, pulled up my boots, and trundled on. I have also experienced times of elation (logging into online blackboard and seeing a higher grade than expected). As a Part-time student, several years on, I am still continuing with my degree – on top of extreme tiredness from testing blood sugars at 12am, and 3am.  The latter resulting in a wonderfully tight HbA1c of 6.9% for a pubescent boy, who is travelling on a difficult journey at times and needs a loving, guiding hand, so it’s all worth it.

The reason why I am persevering is, I care passionately about helping people; I care passionately about scientific research, and it’s place in society. I see my son not having the choice BUT to persevere – even on days whIMG_0178en his fingers hurt from the continued blood finger prick tests, or when he has a painful cannula insertion, or when he just feels that it is all too much to face.

To have the privilege of health to be able to study this and put this knowledge to use one day is something to feel greatly proud of.  I hope my message keeps you feeling motivated through your studies and you rise above the challenges along the way. We CAN do this folks!

I should finish with a cliffhanger – and this would be my number 6 on the list if it were allowed :

if anyone out there has or lives with someone who has Type 1 Diabetes, have you seen the news about the new Medtronic 640g pump? with low suspend technology? coming to the UK now :

Take care folks and if you know someone that needs help with dealing with Diabetes then please take advantage of the wonderful service offered by Diabetes Uk to talk to someone.


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Job Hunting!

These past two weeks I have been mostly job hunting! I decided after my summer work placement that I enjoyed learning new lab tecnhiques and skills and the time felt right to take myself out of University and honours year (now that I have my Bsc in Applied Bioscience) to concentrate on learning in industry. Sub note: I might go back and do postgraduate study at a later stage, but for now, I want to start applying my knowledge and gain more hands-on scientific experience.
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To get down to the nitty-gritty, I feel that sometimes the university labs can be overcrowded and with such short time slots for classes, the chance to even get touching some equipment or a quick glance through the crowds (there are 84 in my class) is at times, frustrating. Nevertheless, I did learn quite quickly to push my way through (previous years experience at Glasgow Barrowlands comes in handy) and make sure I asked questions on what was actually happening – most of the time! For example, a recent PCR assay meant a trip upstairs to the analytical labs, where the software and plate reader were installed. The whole class, trampled and squashed in this lab almost felt like some strange Edinburgh Festival street show, with a small clearing in the middle where the lecturer tried his best to explain threshold and Ct counts whilst pointing at some very distant graphs. My summer placement was crowd free and access to all lab equipment meant I could apply my knowledge without haste – giving me some time to take account of all the gaps in my knowledge and how best I could transfer my skills in employment.

So I’ve updated my LinkedIn profile, polished my CV and read through quite a few interesting posts about career change and being a “mature” student – all of which have affirmed my belief that getting myself out there is the best move at the moment – before I get even more “mature”.

Then there’s the vast sea of laboratory positions to siphon through each day – each with differing defitions of the term “laboratory technician”, “research assistant” or “medical laboratory assistant”… some posts require only an HND and yet others (with the same job title) look for PhD/Masters qualificatons. It’s all very similar to the fact that the scientific community have several terms leading to the same meaning. I once heard a senior Biomedical Scientist describe this phenomenon as intimidation. I prefer to look upon the whole thing as being a tad quirky and geeky – it keeps my sense of humour from abandoning me during such a period of life changing decison making!

Wish me good luck in the job hunt, hopefully I will get closer to my dream of being involved with Type 1 Diabetes research. You never know, one day we could be working together?


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IBMS, CPC, HCPC, Portfolio, Hons – how many more abbrev. Can my blog take?

JohnMilport-1Diddle Diddle dumpling, my son John!

Hi everyone, I’m currently on a work placement over the summer working with IBHER (Institute of Biomedical Health and Environmental Research) within University of the West of Scotland laboratories.  This entails me volunteering basically, to gain much needed experience.  For which I am very grateful, mainly because every job I see advertised states “2 years post qualification experience”. Have you seen this?  I understand completely as a mature student, and one whom has taken a career change, that you simply cannot allow a new graduate to enter labs and start playing ‘The scientist’, but within my degree there was limited accessibility to placements.  Hence, when the sun is shining, and you kids are all playing with hoses and paddling pools whilst I am in the labs!  Violins please – at the ready.

I write this blog with some dismay also, because as you may know, I wanted to study Biomedical Science to allow me to gain access to labs involved with Diabetes Research – possibly to gain a job as a research assitant/technician.  However, my summer placement involves working with murine and human models of OA (osteoarthritis) and characterisation of the cellular infiltates in synovium.  This involves IHC techniques, and microtomy.  Both of which, I am enjoying learning but I still have my heart and passion set on Diabetes research. Does this sound petulant?  I hope not, because I sincerely am grateful for this opportunity but I just fear it may create some unwanted distance from my goals.  In one hand, we are encouraged to think of our goals – or aspirations, but on the otherhand we need to balance reality and what fits in with our own personal circumstances.  The balance which we all live with in society.

Also, sometimes I have doubts about completing honours year due to the continued need for post qualification certification and the fact that nowhere has the time to allow this to happen in the NHS at the moment.  I know of two friends who studied Bsc Hons in Biomedical Science and now work as Band 3 lab assistants – a job which is advertised as “no formal qualifications are necessary”.  So, what to do? honours year or not? that is the debate.  Meanwhile, my family are enjoying summer on our limited budget – and beans are a staple diet right? HashtagNotInItForTheMoney

On a more personal note, I have been volunteering as team leader for Diabetes Uk Big Collection Weekend again and helped to raise over £12M for the charity with all the wonderful volunteers up and down the country in Tesco stores.  I am forever grateful to my friends for giving up their time to come and help my team, and I promise to continue my support for both JDRF and Diabetes Uk no matter what.   John and some friends managed to show the Tesco staff their Insulin pumps, and got some amazing support from members of the public who were not aware of how serious Type 1 diabetes actually is to live with.

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